March 9, 2013

Review: Talented players, subtle dialogue go the distance in '4000 Miles'

By STEVE FEENEY

At a generational and often cultural remove from the youth of the day, grandparents can sometimes provide a unique perspective. They give and also call forth thoughts and emotions that can be transforming for all concerned.

THEATER REVIEW

“4000 Miles” by Good Theater

WHERE: St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St, Portland

DATE REVIEWED: March 8; continues through March 30

TICKETS: $15-$25

CONTACT: 885-5883; goodtheater.com

Playwright Amy Herzog has modeled a character on one of her grandmothers and used this character in two of her highly regarded plays (a third such play is reportedly in the works). Good Theater has just opened the New England premiere of "4000 Miles," an endearing and ultimately uplifting work in which Herzog's grandma character, Vera, is a major presence.

The play concerns an unscheduled visit by a young man named Leo to his grandmother who lives in Greenwich Village. The grandson has just completed a cross-country bicycle trip during which a tragedy has occurred. Both are very glad to see each other, though they are not initially sure how long they will be able to get along.

Leo does connect with Vera through their shared political leanings, though she's decidedly of the Old Left "it's about the community" variety, while he's more concerned with the evils of importing produce and supporting "slave poultry." But their most important bond has to do with the personal passages of aging that each is moving through.

Broadway veteran Alma Cuervo plays the feisty octogenarian whose long history gives her potentially much to say, if only she could remember the words. It was a pleasure to watch her work with local actor Erik Moody as Leo. Their bickering could get loud and salty but their character's affection and need for each other was also very naturally portrayed. There were long moments at Friday's opening when it was clear that these two fine performers were really enjoying their opportunity to work in this production.

Moody, who has become a significant presence on local stages and screens in recent years, adds new depth of feeling here to his trademark quirky affability.

Casey Turner and Ruiqi Tang play the love interests of Leo, the former serious and the latter flat-out hilarious in one of the funniest scenes of this theater season. Both characters, in different ways, offer correctives to the dreamy idealism that Leo shares with his grandma. Both of these young actresses were impressive on Friday night.

Director Stephen Underwood has done a fine job with the talented cast and subtle dialogue of Herzog. One could argue that his set design for Vera's apartment doesn't quite reflect her and her late husband's radical intellectual history as well as it might. But there's little harm done when the writing and the acting draw the play's picture so well. 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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