4000 Miles in Stockbridge

Grannny and fhe Road Warrior

By: - May 19, 2024

4000 Miles
By Amy Herzog
Directed by Lizzie Gottlieb
Cast: Evan Silverstein (Leo Joseph-Connell), Maria Tucci (Vera Joseph), Gabriela Torres (Bec), Allison Ye (Amanda)
Scenic designer, Jason Simms; Costumes, Laurie Churba; Lighting, Patricia M. Nichols; composer, Sound designers, Clare Manchon, Oliver Manchon.
Unicorn Theater, Stockbridge
Berkshire Theatre Group
May 16 to June 1, 2024

It’s 3 A.M. when Leo rings the doorbell of his grandmother Vera. Having started from Seattle, he has biked the 4,000 miles of the play’s title. Her Greenwich Village apartment is less a destination than a pit stop in what, with a companion, has been a journey of self discovery for a handsome, athletic young man with no plans for the future.

For German youth this is a wanderjahr or year of wandering. It’s a traditional transition from the end of university to taking on mandates for career, marriage and family. The difference here is that Leo has skipped college. Moving forward that’s not a viable option as is revealed during a meeting with a girlfriend Bec who has been put on ice.

We first encounter Vera (Maria Tucci) surprised and guarded by this arrival/ intrusion to her serene life as a 90-something rad. Her astutely appointed apartment has been nicely detailed by the design of Jason Simms and crisply accented by the lighting of Patricia M. Nichols.

Initially, Vera fends him off with a hand in front of her face in a gesture that evokes self defense. In fact she needs to slip off and put in her teeth.

He asks to crash for the night which stretches into a month. Leo (Evan Silverstein) is clearly fit and quite handsome in an unassuming manner. He is devastatingly charming while utterly aimless and somewhat irresponsible.

There is a complex back-story about his dysfunctional family and ties with an adopted Asian sister. It seems he kissed her, on the lips, in a moment that he is ambivalent about. The explanation is that they were stoned and it happened. It’s soon clear that he is estranged from his mother who is concerned about him in calls to Granny. But he’s off the grid in every sense.

Having fallen into the lap of his loving grandmother, he stinks, could use a round of fresh laundry, food, shelter and some cash. All of which is provided in due course. Starting with a “loan” to visit a rock climbing gym. That visit adds up to some $90 or so. Doesn’t that seem a bit extreme and self indulgent?

She is a soft touch revealing where she keeps cash and just asks him to run a tally. Later she falsely accuses him of stealing her check book. He didn’t.

The play works best when they interact. At times it indeed drags out like the proverbial 4,000 coast-to-coast pedal. We learn that it’s best to travel West to East which entails a prevailing tail wind. It’s possible, with little effort, to cruise along at up to 15 M.P.H.

As she astutely points out “Aren’t there mountains?” She seems to get all the zingers executed with aplomb. It’s a stunning performance by a renowned actress. Tucci represents most of the gut punch of an otherwise muddled production. Director Lizzie Gottlieb fails to stitch the scenes and characters into a cohesive fabric. We have to patiently find our own thread through the play.

With no money or ambition to see the city he mostly hangs out on the couch. We absorb her daily routines and the tropes of age from hearing loss, memory lapses, and a dwindling membership in her circle of octogenarians. The script identifies her as 91 but Tucci is a energized bunny performed ten years less than decrepitude.

She assumes that he is in Manhattan to see his girlfriend Bec (Gabriella Torres). You know, “The chubby one.” When she surfaced Vera quips that she has “lost weight.” Leo later screams at her about this body shaming.

The insertion of a third character, first by phone and then in person, put the brakes on this easy rider. The momentum gears down to a couple with differences. She is over the romance and enrolled in college with eyes to the future. He’s clueless as to what that entails. As my Mom used to say “Romance without finance ain’t got no chance.”

There’s another speed-bump when Leo is horny and brings home a pickup. Amanda (Allison Ye), who can be “slutty,” is a rich girl from San Francisco. They are game for a hookup on the couch. It gets raucous but Granny, asleep in the other room, until she’s not, is “deaf.”

Late in the play, perhaps too late, is the emotional reveal. On the couch he tells Vera about how his travel companion had a fatal encounter with a truckload of Tyson chicken. The story reminded me of the demise of “Brick” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It’s a tragic buddy story for what initially was a bike trip in which the girlfriends opted out.

Typically, with mordant humor Vera reveals that she didn’t have her hearing aid in when he spilled his guts. This is an instance of the sharp edge of playwright Amy Herzog.

The twist is that a Tyson pr lady shows up and insists that he surrender his camera. It’s never clear what legal grounds she had for that demand. He caved and smashed the camera to the ground. With it went the shadows and dreams.

The accident occurred when his friend was trying to take a shadow photo. It was one of many rituals of the odyssey. Another entailed dipping the back tires in the Pacific and the front ones in the Atlantic. In Manhattan that’s a challenge which Bec offers to help with.

Time ticks in at the end of this production. For Leo there is still time to grow up. He’s headed to Colorado for winter work in ski country. In the summer he has a gig as counselor in a program for rich kids. For Vera the clock is running down. In the final scene she and Leo are about to attend the funeral of her neighbor. Where did he get the suit?

Indeed life is a journey and, for just one night, this prize winning play took us along for the bumpy ride.