I entered the room – a comfortable, cream-colored living area with arched doorframes into the kitchen, hallway, and spare bedroom. There were built-in bookcases, filled to the max with piles of studied and cared for books – appreciated and worn piles that echoed about the space on end tables and desks. Through the windows on the far wall, the exposed brick from the neighboring building reflected the early morning light into this living space, this shared room.
If I was looking to buy an apartment, I would have purchased this one and if I had journeyed across the entire continental U.S. on bike, I may have ended up here. I may have rang the buzzer that denoted a familiar name at three in the morning and stood in the room, opposite an even more familiar face.
I may have ended up like Leo (played by the amiable David Raphaely). I may have stood opposite a nightgown-clad grandmother, Vera (perfectly performed by Beth Dixon) and told her I was here to stay, temporarily. I may have done all of that, because this was a room that held you close, it kept you safe, and it negated everything horrible that came before it. Like that nightgown-clad grandmother, it provided hugs and reassurance, without forgetting to urge you to learn more, discover more, grow more. I could tell that this room, and the people in it, would give me a swift kick in the ass, but would ensure I landed on something soft.
And that’s exactly what Amy Herzog’s 4,000 MILES (directed by Mary B. Robinson) sets out to do: it’s not a story that has a particular “catch” or moral, there’s no point in the play where Herzog rears her head and reminds us that THIS is what she wants us to know, and at no time was I aware of an agenda. 4,000 MILES presents a relationship between a grandmother and her grandson, reacting to one another and to the life that has been presented to them: heartbreak, family strife, and death. It is heartwarming and sincere; a natural slice of life that I could keep watching long after the 90 minutes is up.
The play is carried well by Raphaely (Leo), who exhibits a lovely balance of holistic hippie and considerate caretaker. His impish smile and put-on bravado are ignited as he interacts with two female counterparts: Belle (Shannon Sullivan) and the crass and charming Amanda (Leigha Kato). The true crowning achievement is the magnificent performance of Dixon who expertly handles the naturalistic dialogue and the effects that age has on the thought process in the portrayal of Vera. Dixon is a sensation and the honest life she brings to the performance is felt throughout the entire piece, even when she is off stage. She is a character easy to fall in love with, and I find my life sorely missing her, now that the play is over.
And, perhaps, that’s the point. Family is insufferable until all you want is to suffer alongside them.
4,000 MILES (a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Obie Award winning play) runs until November 10, 2013 at Philadelphia Theatre Company. (480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146. For tickets, call Philadelphia Theatre Company Box Office at 215-985-1400 or visit philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.