Last Friday, I saw a play that I’ve been eagerly anticipating all summer, 4000 Miles, written by Amy Herzog and directed by Kimberly Senior, at Northlight Theatre. The play is centered around a twenty-something named Leo Joseph-Connell (Josh Salt) who unexpectedly shows up on the doorstep of his grandmother, Vera Joseph (Mary Ann Thebus)’s West Village apartment, the decor of which seems frozen in time, as though virtually nothing has been changed since the late 1960s.
Though at first we know very little about why Leo shows up unannounced -- and in the middle of the night, nonetheless -- or why it seems as though he has no place else to go and no one else to turn to in New York City, the blanks soon start to be filled in for us. It turns out he has found himself in New York City at the end of a cross-country bike trip, which he began with a close friend of his, who has recently passed away. Though being his grandmother’s roommate wasn’t necessarily what he envisioned when he arrived on his bicycle, his prior plans -- staying with his girlfriend in her dorm room -- have fallen through.
While it would seem that they both feel -- or anticipate -- they will have little in common, he a twenty-some year old guy, she a woman in her 80s, they soon find out that they have much more in common than either of them would have imagined. It is perhaps because of what they have in common that he feels comfortable talking to her -- maybe more comfortable than he would have anticipated, as well -- and letting her in on what has happened, what has been going on in his life, thus letting the audience in, too.
His life, as it turns out, has recently become rather complicated. His mother, Jane, and he don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on college. She would like him to go and get a degree. He seems to feel as though it goes against his own belief system, and that of his friends as well. In addition, he and his girlfriend, Bec (Caroline Neff), have a strained relationship, being, in essence, in two very different places in life. She has decided to go to college and get a degree. Leo sort of seems to be drifting aimlessly, not attending school, not having a career, and having made no concrete plans for his future. Though it is clear that she, too, wishes he’d return to college and get a degree (he had already started prior to this cross-country trek), it is clear that he takes quite the opposite view. By her merely being enrolled at a university, he seems to believe she has betrayed what he had, up until now, thought of as their shared belief system.
If all of this weren’t enough already, it would seem that he has also quite possibly managed to irreparably damage his relationship with his sister, whom it is clear he holds in extremely high esteem and has long been close to, as the result of one very poor, spontaneous, drug-fueled -- or, at the very least, drug-influenced -- decision. A decision, it should be noted, his parents are convinced is what caused her to go into therapy. Then there’s the trauma of having witnessed his closest friend die, and, it may be argued, the guilt feelings of not having been able to stop the accident from occurring in the first place, nor having been able to save him after the fact.
One of the things that I most enjoyed about the play is how multifaceted the characters all seem to be, something that isn’t always the case, both when it comes to the depiction of the elderly and of twenty-somethings. Vera ends up being much more progressive, much more open-minded and less judgmental than Leo (and, perhaps, other twenty-somethings) might have (erroneously) imagined. Leo, by the same token, is not all about himself and instant gratification, expecting that every need will almost be anticipated and immediately met by those around him. In fact, in short, it feels as though these characters with their flaws and all are real people that most of us know and can often -- if not always -- relate to in some way.
On the whole, 4000 Miles is an extremely well-acted, well-written, engaging play that almost everyone, regardless of what age group they belong to, will easily relate to and thoroughly enjoy.
4000 Miles runs through October 20, 2013 at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie. Tickets may be purchased in person at the box office, online, or by phone by calling the box office at 847-673-6300. For additional information regarding 4000 Miles, special events associated with this production, or Northlight Theatre, including the rest of the 2013-2014 season, visit.
Production photos: Michael Brosilow