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A troubled young man finds solace with his elderly grandmother in this moving and well-acted drama.

Theater Review (San Antonio): ‘4000 Miles’ by Amy Herzog

A grandmother and grandson, finding themselves drawn together at quite different stages in their lives, form the emotional center of Amy Herzog’s delicate, moving 4000 Miles.

Sam Carter Gilliam and Cris Boneta in '4000 Miles.' Photo by Siggi Ragnar.
Sam Carter Gilliam and Cris Boneta in ‘4000 Miles.’ Photo by Siggi Ragnar.

Twenty-one-year-old Leo arrives in the middle of the night at the Greenwich Village apartment of his grandmother, Vera, who is at first startled and then relieved. He’d been on a cross-country bike trip but had abruptly dropped off the radar, leading his anxious mother, with whom he has a complicated relationship, to barrage Vera with anxious calls.

After promising not to reveal Leo’s whereabouts to his family, Vera gets him to put his bike away, take a shower and settle in for a visit. Over the course of several weeks, they get to know each other again. They are progressives from different eras, which gives them both a meeting place and a reason to debate. Vera is the widow of a famed radical, and her somewhat antiquated views are amusing to Leo. He, on the other hand, is dedicated to the green lifestyle, and city-dweller Vera finds his spartan existence to be unnecessarily difficult.

Leo passes his days with no particular purpose in mind, aside from half-heartedly trying to reconcile with his girlfriend, Bec, who is attending college in Manhattan, but he has clearly suffered a trauma that he’s having great difficulty recovering from. Meanwhile, Vera is dealing with the day-to-day indignities of aging, finding it increasingly challenging to walk and becoming angry when she can’t remember her words.

Herzog is more interested in depicting the spontaneous moments that make up everyday life than in issuing grandiose pronouncements, and 4000 Miles is all the more effective for that restraint. By the time Leo reveals to Vera the reason for his despondence, his confession is quietly devastating. But it’s also the moment at which we see that the young man can find a way to heal.

Cris Boneta beautifully inhabits the character of Leo. When he first arrives, all raw nerves and twitchiness, Leo laughs too hard and puts up a false front that Vera can easily see through. By the end of the piece, however, he’s clearly more comfortable in his skin and ready to go on with his life.

Sam Carter Gilliam’s performance as Vera is reminiscent of the way the actress Ruth Gordon might have approached the role, swaying while she walks and waving an arm, trying to look nonchalant but clearly making an effort to maintain her balance. She also has the drawn-out New Yorker’s drawl (“Whaddya call it?”) that was Gordon’s style. It’s terrific and delicately comedic work.

Lilly Canaria is hilarious in her brief turn as Amanda, a flighty art student Leo brings back to the apartment in the hope of a little casual sex, but Kristin Richards seemed to have a case of opening-night jitters as she rushed through her lines as Leo’s girlfriend, Bec.

Bill Gundry’s direction is well-paced, allowing the drama to unfold naturally. The set design by Ryan Deroos nicely captures the feel of an elderly person’s apartment, with its frayed furniture and faded, slightly off-kilter pictures hanging on the wall. Megan Reilly’s lighting is also effective, evoking the passage of days. Pat Smith’s sound design is admirably subtle, with just enough traffic noise and distant sirens to remind us that we’re in the middle of Manhattan.

4000 Miles plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through June 7 at the Cellar Theater in the Playhouse San Antonio, 800 West Ashby Place. Tickets are available online or by calling (210) 733-7258.

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and inbound marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.

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