Philadelphia Theatre Company kicks off their 2013-2014 season with a dramatic bang as they present Amy Herzog’s "4,000 Miles." The OBIE award winning play for Best New American Play, the play explores the intricacies of growing up and the various stages we go through in the process. "4,000 Miles" does a great job in continuing PTC’s streak of exceptionally curated plays that showcase the best that American theatre has to offer.
There are two lines from the play that best characterize not only the person who says it, but also the juxtaposition behind the plot. Twenty-one-year-old Leo confesses at one point, "That’s why I’m here. I don’t know where else to be." After biking through all of the United States, he reaches New York City where his grandmother, Vera, lives. What starts as a brief stop becomes an extended stay for Leo to learn about his family’s past and come to terms with his own.
Shrouded in the idealism that only youth can afford, he hasn’t looked beyond his optimistic day-to-day life, and it is difficult for him to take the responsibility for mistakes he has made and for creating his own future. And most difficult of all, is knowing where to start.
Later in the show, Vera laments, "You’d think at my age I would know better than to think that anything lasts." Vera lives alone in an apartment building, trades phone calls with her neighbor to make sure they haven’t passed away overnight, and doesn’t have any visible passions. Being the last of her marriage to last, the last of her family to stay in New York City, and even the last of a group of other elderly friends, Vera has an intrinsic strength to her albeit her palpable loneliness.
As Leo settles in, Vera becomes more self-conscious of her body and her mind gradually failing her. Losing things, failing to find the correct words and forgetting to put her teeth in are some of the larger ways in which Vera has become more frail. And she is continually reminded that regardless of how quickly her body’s capabilities are leaving her, everything else is.
It is at these rivaling crossroads that Vera and Leo begin their new arrangement as roommates. While uneasy at first, the unlikely pair begins to learn that despite the vastly different places in their life they are at, their difficulties are remarkably similar. Both are somewhat lost, and it is this aimless existence that bonds them. The breezy pace with which the play moves along is purposeful to allow the characters to bond in a natural, familial way. The relationship between Vera and Leo is one that could only be bred out of family.
The heavy lifting of the play lies solely on the two main actors playing Leo and Vera. Davy Raphaely is appropriately carefree to the point of oblivious, and does an excellent job of creating the different shades of petulant adolescence.
Beth Dixon is so startling perfect in the role that it almost took looking back on it to understand how natural she was. Embodying the stubbornly kind manner of Vera’s set a tone for the characters’ interactions that was so important for the relatively slow pace to succeed. And the chemistry between Raphaely and Dixon was appropriately uncomfortable at first and relaxed by the end.
"4000 Miles" is a remarkable play on numerous levels. For the most part, it is just this simple story of two family members reconnecting in difficult circumstances. But while that alone would be enough to merit a trip to the theatre, the more interesting takeaway is the often ignored intersection of the younger generation with the elderly, completely removed from the generation in between.
Whether Leo was marveling at the real hippie lifestyle Vera once lived, or Vera was smoking marijuana with Leo on the couch, they found a common ground in which to help each other find the next steps in their lives.
"4000 Miles" runs through Nov. 11 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St in Philadelphia. For information or tickets, call 215-985-0420 or visit www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.