The following review appeared in the Mendocino Beacon, 8/8/2019
A review by Marylyn Motherbear Scott
Presented by Mendocino Theatre Company
4000 MILES by Amy Herzog
directed by Betty Abramson
Cast: Jimmy Betts as Leo, Ann Woodhead as Vera
Laurel Livezey as Bec, Sidney Droz/ Heather Gealey as Amanda
MTC’s mid-season presentation, 4000 Miles, by Amy Herzog, is poignant, reflective, and intimate. Relative to earlier-season plays, it’s a quiet presentation, with inherent hints of revolution, political and personal. The title, 4000 Miles, describes a journey longer than the breadth of America; more so, a life journey that is connected by the uncharted map of two family members, seventy years between them. A grandmother, Vera, who is 91, and her grandson, Leo, 21. The expanse of at least a couple generations lies between them. It had been a decade since Vera and Leo spent time together. The last time was when Vera’s husband, Leo’s grandfather, died. Vera has lived alone since then. Leo, having ridden a bicycle to New York from the west coast, shows up in the middle of the night, at Grandma’s iconic ’60 style apartment in Greenwich Village.
Herzog created this script out of the fabric of her own life, based on her real life grandma, and other family members. They are a vital, living part of the play, heard of or heard from, but not seen — the Grandfather, a communist, professor and writer; the next door neighbor, Ginny with whom Vera shares the Entertainment section of the newspaper (when Vera’s done and not before); Leo’s sister, Lily, who is adopted and Asian; Leo’s mom, with whom Leo is not speaking; his close friend, Micah. who shared Leo’s bicycle journey.
The play overall is marked by pauses, and over-lapping, often dropped, conversation; frequently by Vera’s lapses in memory. Unable to recollect a word she knows she knows, the frequently used “Whaddayacallit” comes into play and promises to become a beloved household word to those who see the play. Vera’s lapses are mirrored in Leo’s unwillingness to reveal his mind and heart, to process what has become a solitary vigil in the plight of life and death that marks the expanse of even a young life.
The continent of Leo and Vera is bridged by their day-to-day experience of living together, and by what Leo finally reveals. In that particular moment, words said and not fully heard, remind us of the importance of our voice, of releasing the grief and pain. In the context of wisdom missed, how often do we wish that a moment could be dog-ear’d, like in the pages of a book, to remember and remind others that something important has been said; that the lives of people ordinary, and not so ordinary, passes in precious moments of things said and done, even when there’s no audience to witness. Herzog has created that tender witnessing.
Under the astute direction of Betty Abramson, and in communion with Herzog’s goals, MTC’s 4000 Miles brings generations into relationship while honoring the transmission of political ideals. Leo, the self-proclaimed hippy, spontaneous, impatient and forgiving is sensitively portrayed by Jimmy Betts. Vera is a calmer, more seasoned, version of those same traits. Ann Woodhead gives an amazing performance of this beloved elderly character. The supporting characters, Bec (Laurel Livezey) & Amanda (Sidney Droz) offer the sometimes controversial aspects of young women in today’s world, Vera would have been born shortly after communism was born in America. She was (as was Herzog’s grandma) a card-carrying communist. Vera would have been a young adult in the fifties, a time when personal intellect blooms. The 50’s, an era when intellect burgeoned with attempts to examine governmental and social systems that were overseeing our lives. A more effective freedom was sought.
One of my dog-eared moments, by Vera, about communities, lest we forget:
“… I believe in a … a society where … here I go with my words. The point is you help people, it’s about the community, it’s not about I do what’s best for me and you do what’s best for you, because …” And thus, the seeds of his grandparents revolution are steeped into Leo’s more social freedom of expression, into his expressions of free love, free will, into the Love not War movement of the 60’s. The map of Vera and Leo, boundaries challenged, pushed, tolerated and endured, resolve in an undefined now-ness of love and healing. The ultimate message — Keep on keeping on. Do not be deterred from working toward a better end. Do something that honors the struggle and the beauty of sharing lives.
People say about this play — tender, touching, a beautiful story, moving. Great acting. Everyone should see this play.
Runs through September 1. 2019
For tix and info: call (707) 937-4477