Dee Maaske & Michael Goldsmith in 4000 Miles.
Photo by Bill Brymer
By Amy Herzog
Directed by Mike Donahue
Review by Jane Mattingly
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Jane Mattingly. All rights reserved.
Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize finalist script, as you may have guessed by the title, is a story of long journeys — of physical distance and of years. An earthy, 21-year old, Leo, shows up at his grandmother’s Greenwich Village apartment in the middle of the night, seeking another place to crash on his cross-country bicycle trip, which inadvertently ends on this night, as he ends up staying with her for several weeks and the two of them strike up a newfound friendship.
Michael Goldsmith’s Leo perfectly embodies what would be considered the typical white male, healthy, upper middle class bred, one semester of college, climbing gym attending, millennial character — but does not give in to this stereotype, as one major characteristic of millennials is our constant effort to shake this generational stamp that pigeonholes us as entitled and impossibly idealistic. Additionally, rather than slumping into a “sad, lost young man” type, even though that’s what he very much is, Goldsmith maintains a spring in his step and a large toothy smile — which, often, is all you can see, as his shaggy hair is usually covering the top half of his face. This positivity immediately draws us in, wanting him to succeed, but as his devastation leaks through this thin mask as he gradually reveals what he’s lost, we feel it that much more heavily.
He and Dee Maaske, who plays his grandmother, Vera, offer some of the most gorgeous scene partner work I’ve seen. The more time you spend with these two characters, the more you discover how balanced they really are. As a person like Leo might feel like he isn’t taken seriously by society because of his age, no one could relate more to that than an elderly person, especially one widowed and living alone, with only her neighbor across the hall to regularly check on her. Maaske’s Vera is elegant and strong, but has known great loss — of people, of time, her hearing, but the most painful one to her seems to be the increasing loss of her memory. This frustration of losing her sharpness is the only thing that can slow this tough woman down for one second, and having her grandson in her home for an extended period of time gives her extra light, and seeing how much these two people need each other is beautiful to watch. Rounding out this strong cast of four are Justine Salata as Leo’s girlfriend, Bec, and Kristin Villanueva as his romantic acquaintance, Amanda, who is charming and hilarious.
This production shines in its simplicity and honesty. This story begs to be presented in some sort of intimate setting, and the round Bingham Theatre serves it well. In the absence of walls, Dane Leffrey’s scenic design includes just the right amount of tidy stacks of clutter one might find in a New York City grandmother’s cozy apartment. The sound choices are minimal and perfectly symbolic as well. There is a moment that you know is coming eventually, when Leo tells Vera the full story of the turning point of his trip. The positioning of the two of them on the almost totally dark stage, along with the gentle but steady pace of Goldsmith’s delivery made for an absolutely stunning several minutes, which left most the audience in pieces after willingly collapsing under this scene’s weight, and it was executed with such a straightforward manner that let raw emotion seep out naturally, instead of forcing it.
This production has all of the laughter, tears, and laughing-though-tears moments that make a piece stay with you for a long time. The post-show conversations I heard in the theater, lobby, and all the way down the street were, “I want to call my grandmother.” I have no living grandparents to call, but left feeling moved by the idea of an unlikely relationship, a reconnection that can happen in any stage of life, when you least expect and probably need it most. Maybe the show will do something entirely different for you, but either way, I encourage you to go down to Actors Theatre and pay a visit to Grandma Vera.
January 5-31, 2016
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 W. Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Jane Mattingly grew up on the ballet stage but got mixed up with some theatre folks along the way and hasn’t looked back. A Louisville native and former LEO Weekly contributor, Jane holds a BA in English from the University of Louisville and has acted and directed with local theatre companies such as The Bard’s Town, Finnigan Productions, The Alley Theater, and WhoDunnit. She works as a baker and enjoys square dancing and hiking.