by: Sandi Durell

One of the few or, perhaps, only plays currently on the boards that mixes comic relief with sadness and does it so well, is Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles” at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre as it maneuvers the audience from Seattle and St. Paul to Greenwich Village to find truth and maturity in the safety of Grandma Vera’s arms and apartment.

Leo (played so well by newcomer Gabriel Ebert) is a 21 year old hippie who is so eco-friendly, he doesn’t even have a cell phone, and has cycled from Seattle arriving at 3 a.m. at his 91 year old grandmother’s apartment. He is disheveled and in need of a shower, dropping his heavy laden bike in the apartment. Vera (the perfect Mary Louise Wilson), who happens to be a card-carrying Commie, is awakened, shuffles in, mumbles a few words and disappears to put in her teeth. Thinking he will overnight, or stay a couple of nights, he instead crashes for several weeks, in an effort to find himself, a job and hopefully renew his relationship with his love object, Bec (Zoe Winters) who is on a path to her own maturity, now in college and wants to opt out of her relationship with Leo.
 Leo has an adversarial relationship with his mother back in St. Paul and there are issues with his sister, an adopted Chinese girl that arise within the play, but these are two people we do not see.

To assuage his feelings of loneliness and his breakup with Bec, Leo picks up a ditzy Asian girl (Greta Lee) in a bar for a little casual sex and brings her back to Vera’s apartment. As the scene unfolds so does the heartbreak that Leo encountered on his biking expedition with his friend Micah who died. This issue is brought into perspective as this young man attempts to deal with Micah’s death in this poignant scene of unbridled emotion.

Sometimes it’s a feeling of Burns and Allen as Leo plays straight man to Vera’s comedic one-liners that are usually right on the money. Wilson couldn’t be more charming and subtle in her interpretation. The scene, as she and Ebert get high together on pot, discussing intimate sexual details of their lives, is not only funny, but puts a whole new spin on how granny is able to cleverly convey closeness and comfort. Surely, Leo is capable of deep emotions as we witness several heart-warming bear hugs with Vera and Bec and more.

The play is a woven tapestry of life’s joys, sorrows, problems, regrets, compassion and human nature in every form, as youth awakens into adulthood and love reigns as the catalyst.

The old apartment is a compilation of a living room, several hallways to a kitchen and bedrooms and even the outside of the apartment as evidenced by a section of hallway and doorway to another apartment; very cleverly designed by Lauren Halpern. The lighting provides the morning to night feeling (Japhy Weideman) and there is original music and sound by Ryan Rumery. Herzog’s story of everyday life is brilliantly guided by director Daniel Aukin. www.lct.org

*Photo Erin Baiano