The idea of a twenty-something cycling cross-country to bond with his maternal grandmother is like watching Evil Knievel jump the Snake River Canyon – you might rather watch it through your fingers.
Amy Herzog’s award-winning 4000 Miles is rich in natural dialogue, but Devon Nickel’s two-dimensional portrayal of grandson Leo does nothing to accelerate his character’s intended ascension from couch surfer dude to semi-responsible adult. Director Matthew Wiener has to assume some responsibility.
Where Nickel and Weiner do succeed is in making Patti Davis Suarez appear even more incredible in the billed role of “91-year-old Jewish grandmother” Vera. Suarez doesn’t look 91, nor does she come across as Jewish, so prepare to be disappointed if you’re going for either of those reasons.
What you won’t be disappointed by is her performance. Suarez delivers an indelible portrayal of a divorced widow struggling to find the words and sounds that now elude the frailty of her age.
Act Two, Scene One could’ve been lifted from the film Harold and Maude. If only there were more scenes like it, made more poignant by foreshadowing dialogue like “More talking is not better than no talking.”
As Leo’s estranged girlfriend Bec, Courtney Weir is believable, but to reunite her with Nickel on the hooves of Nearly Naked’s production Equus is far too convenient to be coincidental and it doesn’t play.
It’s also unclear what the playwright had in mind with the promiscuous Amanda, played Keilani Akagi. If it was intended to stoke political undertones, then it fell flat for one reason or another.
Regardless of these uncertainties, 4000 Miles sold out during the first Saturday and Sunday of its run at the Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center – home to Black Theatre Troupe and hostel to the nomadic Actors Theatre. If you’ve never been, it’s a nice venue and there’s plenty of free parking nearby.
4000 Miles runs through January 26 with post-show discussions on the 16th and 19th.