Check it out
What: “4000 Miles”
Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento
When: Through April 13: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $26-36 general, $24-$36 for seniors and students
Info: Visit www.capstage.org
Rating: For mature audiences
To put it simply, “4000 Miles” written by Amy Herzog and directed by Carolyn Howarth at Capital Stage is simply wonderful.
You will laugh, and cry, and enjoy the friendship that can deepen despite many decades in age difference.
This Obie Award Winning — and 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist — play tells the story of Leo (Teddy Spencer), a 20-something free-spirited fellow who has been on a “mission” (never clearly defined) with his friend to ride 4,000 miles from Seattle to New York. Something tragic happened on the road, which is not explained until a very poignant scene later in the play, and he finds himself discombobulated and needing to regroup. He shows up at his 91-year-old grandmother’s rent-controlled apartment at 3 a.m. one morning. (I fell in love with the set design by Jonathan Willams and Emi Mizuno.)
Grandma Vera (Dee Maaske) is not expecting her grandson and is embarrassed to answer the door without her teeth, holding her hand over her mouth and mumbling questions about what Leo is doing there. Once her dentures are in, the questions can begin in earnest.
Vera isn’t your average cookies and stories kind of grandma. She is an old Marxist who keeps Mao’s biography and the Kama Sutra next to the yellow pages by the telephone.
The conversation between the two snaps and crackles as they settle in with each other. The two actors proved they are able to handle anything that comes along when someone in the audience on opening night had a medical emergency. The play had to be stopped while waiting for 911 to come. Happily the patron was able to leave under his own steam and the play resumed, with barely a flicker, other than a gentle snicker from the audience when Leo repeats the line he had just said when the play was halted. We were all instantly back in Vera’s apartment again.
Vera is the kind of grandma we’d all like to have, one you can talk to about anything. “I’m glad to see you carry those, but I’m surprised they’re not opened,” she states matter-of-factly as he retrieves the condoms he left inside his backpack along with his laundry she washed while he was asleep.
After the show, someone greeted Maaske saying that her performance was “unbelievable.” I felt that comparing the frail old woman we had just seen on stage with the vibrant woman greeting her fans the proper description was “believable.” She has all the old woman aches and pains, rises from the couch with difficulty, walks bent over some of the time, and sighs as if the physical activities of life are sometimes just too much.
Yet her wit is sharp and she’s not above revealing surprising secrets during a session of pot smoking with her grandson.
As for Spencer, he was just perfect as the gawky barely-out-of-adolescence young man, uncomfortable in his very tall body, yet with strong values (he’s an eco-enthusiast and doesn’t have a cell phone).
The title of this play refers not only to the distance Leo has biked, but also to the emotional distance between himself and the rest of the world. He’s having trouble with his girlfriend Bec (Elizabeth Holzman, who gives a wonderful performance), has a complicated relationship with his mother (who is never seen), and an awkward relationship with his sister Lilly (Mayette Villanueva, whose voice is heard, somewhat garbled, as Leo has a Skype conversation with her).
He brings home Amanda (Sylvia Kwan) for some recreational hanky panky. Kwan is a pistol and though her part is small, she definitely makes an impression.
The closest relationship he has, Leo realizes is with this quirky grandmother, who herself has “outlived all her companions” and is finding joy in having someone to talk with again. When he finally unburdens himself about the problems with the bike ride, Lighting Designer Les Solomon has the pair in near darkness, as befits the atmosphere for such conversations.
When the end of the play comes, we don’t know what is going to happen to Leo, but we realize that he has been changed by the time he has spent with Vera. You simply must see this play. You won’t regret it.