Friday, September 30, 2016

ION’S “4000 Miles” tugs at the heart

Amy Herzog’s “4000 miles” is one of those pieces that tugs at the heart, touches your tickle bone and forces reflection. It will leave you wanting more of Herzog and wishing you could stay with the characters a bit longer. It will be playing through Oct. 9th and you won’t want to miss it.

Herzog won the Lincoln Center Obie Award for Best New American play and was Pulitzer Prize finalist. She has also gathered a goodly number of praises and recognition from Yale Rep; New York Theatre workshop; Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Finalist; Drama Desk Nomination.

It all makes sense. Her dialogue is intelligent, sharp, and keenly funny and oft times thought bending, never stilted or pretentious. All the characters say what’s on their minds, no filters here, thanks to the ease in which grandson Leo (Connor Sullivan) and grandmother Vera (Jill Drexler) show in trying to build on renewing their familial ties.

Leo and Vera cross the Continental Divide and wind up meeting at the end of Leo’s cross- country journey at ION stage in Hillcrest. Leo suddenly finds his way to his grandmother’s flat  ‘4000 Miles’ from the beginning of his trek in Seattle by way of Minneapolis, because his college girlfriend Bec (Michelle Marie Trester) refuses to let him spend the night at her place.

Sparks fly, memories are unearthed and personalities surface. The reunion of sorts takes place in Vera’s Greenwich Village apartment. The year is 2007 and Vera’s rent controlled apartment looks the same since she and her late husband moved in in the late ’60’s. Raygoza is credited for the period look. He is a master for detail. Paris designed the costumes.

Vera and Leo have not seen each at least for that long. For that matter he’s also been out of touch with the rest his family as well, a point well made over and over again in the play. “The whole family has been worried”.

From my first hand experience grandsons  (I have three) do not gush. They speak the facts, Ma’am and sit back and wait for the fallout. Leo and Vera have that kind of a relationship. Although she is a better listener than yours truly she manages to get her points across, good bad or indifferent. Vera: “It’s three o’clock in the morning, so I’m just asking. Have you eaten in a while?” Leo: “I’m cool.”

That conversation comes after the ‘knock’ at her door at three AM is finally answered. Vera is rightfully taken aback. Teeth out for the night and her whadayacallit (hearing aid) on her night table, 90 something Vera was in a deep sleep. Why and how on earth could she, would she hear anything in that state? And Leo, did he call to say he was on his way? Should she have been startled? You betcha! Oops, he doesn’t own a cell phone.

Connor Sullivan an Jill Dressler
Sullivan’s Leo is laid back yet up tight, easy but edgy, charming and appealing but sometimes cops an attitude. He too is perfect playing against Drexler. It’s called chemistry.

Vera might be pushing ninety something but no grass grows under her feet. When she can’t remember ‘her words’ she’s sympathetic and when she has a point to make she articulates it naturally coherently and pointedly. Jill Drexler (she’s been away too long) paints a perfect picture of an imperfect Vera.

She’s still leery of her grandson’s sudden visit but continues to ‘loan him money’ do his laundry and feed him when she finally learns that his girlfriend Bec wouldn’t let him stay at her place. He’s OK staying for a night or two, but you can guess he stays longer.

Bec does come a calling but things go from bad to worse over the course of the conversation when she lets Leo that it’s over.  Michelle Marie Trester fits the bill as Bec, the girlfriend who wants to move on, yet is still caught in the past of what might have been. No chance of reconciliation here.

The longer Leo stays the more the tensions mount and the more they mount the more we learn about each of them. His biggest sorrow, he confesses was when he and his friends were on a cross -country trip and his best friend met up with a tragic accident.  Leo witnessed it and still feels remorse for not being able to stop it. Now at grandma’s he has found the nurturing he missed but it takes him a while to accept anything from anyone.

Vera, a passionate political activist still longs for the company of her now deceased husband and shares stories with Leo about him. Both need something from the other but it is slow in coming. Oh, she has a neighbor across the hall, both card carrying, well…They call each other every day to make sure each is still alive. That only goes so far because Vera has other things on her mind like some memory loss, hearing loss and some loss of balance. It stinks getting older.

Soon Vera and Leo begin to act like they have finally figured out the formula to make their togetherness work; they enjoy a bit of a smoke together and all seems good. Interactions are real and heartfelt and watching their own personal journeys begin to unravel and find new avenues brings tears as they come into their own.

Founding fathers Glenn Paris and Claudio Raygoza seem to have a penchant for pulling the rabbit out of the hat nine times out of ten. This current production is just the case in point. The play and the characters are well defined yet still leave us with wanting more. There are no resolutions, no great ah ha moments, only questions.

After all is said and done Leo still has miles to go before he sees that there are others in his orbit he might want to care for, but that’s another play and he is only 21 after all.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 15th
Organization: Ion Theatre Company
Phone: 619-600-5020
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 6th Avenue @ Penn, Hillcrest, CA 92103
Ticket Prices: $20.00-$32.00
Photo: Daren Scott

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