Sunday, 13 May 2012

4000 Miles

      Amy Herzog's 4000 MILES has gotten very strong reviews from the New York critics. I wish I could feel the same enthusiasm for it. It's an example of what one might call the new domestic realism. Young playwrights like Annie Baker work within a realistic framework but eschew the act structure and the textbook "exposition-climax-denouement" structure of realists like Miller, O'Neill and Williams. There's no sense of the action of 4000 MILES moving toward any sort of conclusion.
     A troubled young man shows up at his grandmother's doorstep late one night. Vera Joseph is in her eighties, partially deaf and both independent and lonely. She was once a communist and peace activist and was married to a left-wing intellectual. Leo, her grandson, like many kids in their early twenties, is unsettled and self-absorbed. He has just been on a cross-country bike ride. What ensures over the next 105 minutes are a series of short scenes taking place over the month Leo stays with his grandmother who seems to be his favorite person in the family. We also see his breakup with his girlfriend and his brief, unsuccessful encounter with another girl. Leo cannot move forward because he cannot deal with his grief over the loss of his best friend in a grotesque accident during their cross-country bike trip, nor with the guilt he feels because he just moved on after his friend died.
     I get frustrated by plays written like television shows. Lots of short scenes. I keep waiting for the commercials between the scenes. There is no strong narrative arc here to lead an audience from one scene to the next. We do get the "big Revelation" from Leo close to the end, but the scene is more theatrical than dramatic as there is no particular reason to tell his story at that particular moment in the play. This is one of those plays that stops rather than ends. Herzog obviously thinks, perhaps rightly, that any traditional dramatic conclusion would be artificial.  Leo has finally at the end performed an unselfish act, in this case toward someone he doesn't even know, but somehow, even with fine performances from Mary Louise Wilson and Gabriel Ebert, it also seems a bit too small for the stage. It doesn't resonate beyond itself the way Stephn Karam's SONS OF THE PROPHET does. I kept thinking of Annie Baker's fine three-character play ALIENS in which we really feel the life of the characters beyond the confines of the setting.
     Most of the audience was Vera's age and they seemed to enjoy the play enormously.
4000 MILES by Amy Herzog. Lincoln Center Theatres Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. May 11, 2012.

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