Friday, December 19, 2014

"4000 Miles" at Park Square Theatre

Is there a sweeter word in the English language than "Grandma?" Maybe it's because I don't have one anymore, but there's something about the grandchild/grandparent relationship that strikes me as so unique and special. Your grandparents are sort of like your parents, only much cooler and wiser. Park Square Theatre's production of playwright Amy Herzog's 2011 play 4000 Miles explores this relationship in a really beautiful way. With a small cast and a simple and profound story, it's perfectly suited to their new thrust stage* in the basement of the historic Hamm Building.

The title refers to Leo's cross country journey by bicycle, starting from his current home in Seattle, through his childhood home in St. Paul, and ending at his grandmother's Greenwich Village apartment. The journey took some unexpected turns, and Leo is suffering from more than just the usual angst of youth. He and his grandma Vera don't know each other well, but he has nowhere else to go. He needs to heal and figure out where to go from here, and Vera helps him do that, just by being there, listening (when she has her hearing aid in), and providing that no-nonsense sage advice of those older and wiser than us. Vera comes to rely on Leo as well and enjoy having him around. They develop a comfortable rapport, but alas, by definition of the relationship the situation can't continue as it is, and once Leo has healed, he's ready to leave the nest again.

Leo and Vera (Gabriel Murphy and Linda Kelsey,
photo by Petronella Ytsma)
Under director Gary Gisselman, this four-person cast really shines. Brief appearances by Becca Hart as the estranged girlfriend and Joann Oudekerk as his date shed more light on Leo's character, but the show belongs to Linda Kelsey and Gabriel Murphy. Linda's performance as Vera is so lived in and real, it's easy to imagine sitting down at her table for coffee and frozen pastry. She gives Vera a vital spirit that's struggling to get through her aging body and mind. Gabriel hits all right the notes as this cocky youngster who thinks he has it all together, slowly peeling back the layers as Leo lets his grandmother (and the audience) see the trauma he's experienced and the pain that he's feeling. The two of them together are just so charming as they portray a really beautiful multi-generational relationship.

This is only the second play in the new Andy Boss Stage, so it's fun to continue to explore what it can look like and be. In this case, scenic designer Rick Polenek has transformed it into a very detailed and realistic NYC apartment. The back of the stage is lined with shelves filled with books and tchotchkes, while dated grandmotherly furniture extends into the thrust part of the stage.

4000 Miles is one of those wonderful plays that's not big on action, but that really digs into relationships and characters, through sharp, funny, poignant dialogue, as well as through things left unsaid. Unfortunately I'm catching this one towards the end of its short run; it closes this weekend. But if you have some free time in your holiday schedule this weekend, it's definitely worth a visit.

*I was not able to see 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, now playing on Park Square's main stage, due to scheduling issues, but I saw it two years ago and found it to be quite delightful! Read more of my thoughts here, and buy your tickets for this year's show here.