While watching playwright Amy Herzog's wonderful play, 4000 Miles, I kept being reminded of my own relationship with my grandmother (on my mother's side of the family) who passed away many years ago (unfortunately, I never met my grandmother on my father's side). I secretly wished that I had been able to speak with her with the same amount of candor and openness that the character of Leo is able to in the play, but I was simply much too young, and she was far too reserved for that to have ever happened. That being said, the experience of watching these two interact was tremendously affecting, and something that will stay with me for a very long time. The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has put together a great show that's both hilarious and extremely touching, and it features a terrific cast. I found it to be a marvelous production, and I highly recommend it.
Late one night, Leo shows up on the doorstep of his 91-year old grandmother, Vera, with his bicycle in tow. He's pedaled some 4000 miles to pay her a visit, but there's much more to the story. He's recently lost a good friend to a horrible traffic accident that occurred while they were traveling across the country, and he's also found that he can no longer tolerate living at home. Leo is searching for something that will give his life some meaning, even if he's not completely aware of it yet, and like his grandmother, he's a bit unconventional in his approach to living. He shows up first at his girlfriend Bec's place, but the timing just isn't right for her, so he heads over to Vera's apartment instead. Vera is a real piece of work, and I mean that in the best possible way. She may be feeling her age in any number of ways, but she still has plenty to contribute, and over the course of the play she brings out a maturation in Leo that's unexpected, and long overdue.
Dan McCabe does very fine work as Leo, bringing out the character's impulsiveness and immaturity, while managing to remain remarkably likable. Rita Gardner is simply a treasure as Vera, brilliantly conveying the physical and mental effects that a long and colorful life have taken on her, while maintaining a reasonably good outlook. Together, their interplay is funny and tugs at the heart. Katie McClellan is also strong as Leo's ex (spoiler alert), who makes it quite clear to him that she expects him to be more of a man than the grown up boy that he's become. Lisa Helmi Johanson is a riot as Amanda, a tipsy college girl that Leo picks up one night, who's just a wee bit slutty.
Jane Page directs this piece with considerable aplomb, bringing out the humor and pathos in equal measure as the script demands, but never letting the action fall too far one way or the other. Robert Mark Morgan's scenic design is superb, deftly conjuring up Vera's New York apartment, and making it seem genuinely authentic. Jason Orlanko's costumes are absolute fits for each character, and John Wylie's lighting captures the mood and timing of each scene with subtle perfection. Rusty Wandall's sound design nicely captures the overall feel of the play without being overly intrusive.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has once again produced must-see theatre, something they seem to be able to do on a consistent basis. Give yourself a treat and check out 4000 Miles, it's well worth the trip, and it continues through February 3, 2013 in the Studio Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton.