The show: "4,000 Miles" at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven
What makes it special?: Amy Herzog's play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
First impressions: First things first. Don't expect hugs in this slice-of-life play about a 21-year-old grandson who arrives to crash at his grandmother's Greenwich Village apartment following a cross-country bike trip. Well, at least not the type of feel-good embraces that one associates with sentimental granny plays. This ain't it, and thank goodness for that in this well-acted and well-staged production.
Hezog, whose work I admired in the past with "After the Revolution and "Belleville," doesn't go in for neat endings — or beginnings. Oh, there are a few hugs in the play, but take, for example, the one near the beginning of the play in this honestly presented Long Wharf Theatre production.
Leo, the grandson, arrives at the apartment in the middle of the night after being out of communication with his family for some time. The two know they should embrace, but both of these prickly "progressives" (Vera, the 91-year-old grandmother, is a Communist; he's a New-Ager) haven't progressed in the emotional-connection department. It's awkward, at least for Vera, who finds herself with mixed emotions at the unexpected visitor and slightly embarrassed by her social ineptitude.
The kid needs help in that department, too, but Leo has had a lot to deal with: a terrible incident that happened on the trip. The break-up with his girlfriend. Parent troubles. Sibling guilt. Herzog's play is about how he comes to terms with all of this — or at least how he comes to feel less lost. And that's a fine kind of journey, too.
What happens once he's there?: He hangs. He reads. He sort of drifts, still not wanting to connect with his distraught mother, or nearly anyone really. A tentative attempt to see his ex girlfriend ends badly, as does a scene when he brings a date back his grandmother's apartment.
Change happens incrementally. To Vera, too. These are two strong-willed, mission-driven people defining their life outside the mainstream from two different eras, and who are more alike than either would care to admit.
But there are no big epiphanies here, no dramatic fireworks, no showy actor-y scenes that make you go, "Wow, now that's acting.' In fact, a pivotal moment of the play is presented with the lights off.
That's bizarre: Confessions are best told in the dark. And once you adjust to the strangeness of it all, you realize that this may be the only way Leo, who is more fragile than he lets on, can release his haunted memories, his pain, his guilt — with his grandmother silently sitting on the couch beside him.
It's played in a very subdued, almost nonchalant, way and in its simplicity lies its power. And you can say that about the entire play — perhaps Herzog's others, too. You think nothing of major importance is happening — or certainly not being resolved — and then it sort of sneaks up on you and you realize it's all in the everyday detail.
What is? Truth. It isn't explained or presented to you in a easy-to-summarize speech so much as you asked to intuitively glean it from the play's totality. Just like life.
And the performances?: Naturalistically presented under director Eric Ting's sensitive staging. Zoaunne Leroy plays Vera without sentimentality or self-pity and with all the irritations and irrationalities intact. Micah Stock also doesn't try to soften his characters irresponsibiities and annoyances but his character's innate decency and goodness comes through nevertheless. Also his emo-eco lifestyle is presented with guileless sincerity. (The one sweet set-piece with his grandmother is when Leo celebrates the autumnal equinox with Vera by sharing some dope and sex stories.)
Teresa Avia Lim, as Leo's date Amanda, is an off-the-wall original. Leah Karpel as Leo's ex Bec is a vaguely written role — her return toward the end of the play makes little sense — but she nicely connects with her character's anger, confusion and hurt in Leo's actions.
Who will like it?: Lefties. Those looking for fresh theater voices.
Who won't?: Those who like her granny plays with twinkle. The Tyson Corp.
For the kids?: Teens could identify with the 21-year-old grandson.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: No sentimental journey, ''4,000 Miles" offers a different kind of theatrical trip of discovery.
The basics: The show runs through March 16 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. The play runs 1 hour 40 minutes without an intermission. Information at 203-787-4282 and www.longwharf.org.
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