Produced by: American Conservatory Theatre
Featuring: Susan Blommaert as Vera, Reggie Gowland as Leo, Julia Lawler as Bec and Camille Mana as Amanda
Running time: 95 minutes (no intermission)
When: January 17 through February 10, 2013
Where: The Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, California
Tickets: $25-$130. Box office, 405 Geary Street, San Francisco, California, or call 415-749-2228 or visit tickets.act-sf.org
in San Francisco
The script for "4000 Miles," by Amy Herzog, is a remarkable thing, because it is both subtle and remarkably clear.
Not all scripts are at all clear. It takes some kind of special vision, anointed on the heads of directors and actors, to be able to see what is in a play, sometimes.
But it's all right there in "4000 Miles," the story of a 20something bicyclist who's working through some emotional traumas, and his grandmother, and the little things they do to help each other.
By the end of the script, it becomes evident that sure, this is a beautifully told story, full of love and understanding of very separate generations, but it is as fragile as thin crystal, as delicate as the colorful dust of a butterfly's wings.
Thankfully, Mark Rucker, who is directing "4000 Miles" at A.C.T. in San Francisco, and Reggie Gowland, who plays that 20something bike rider, both seem to have a solid grasp of the building blocks of Herzog's excellent script.
"It's a beautiful, fresh play," Rucker said during a phone interview a few days before the show opened. "I love that it's intergenerational, with the young man and his grandmother. This period of time is a period of transition for them both, and they share it.
"It's funny and moving. Beautiful writing, that brings those things forward. It's a delicate balance to do a play like this. You want to serve the comedy of it, but not too much. It's not the primary focus. There are some deep thoughts going on in this play about growing up, and about getting old."
For Gowland, who plays the 20something who has that growing up to do, "It's a play about people trying to love each and trying to find connection with each other, even though there is a huge age gap, and a world-view gap.
"They are both radicals of their days, but that means very different things now, than in the 1950s. The counter culture in the '50s meant a lot of danger. Now, it's more of an introspective thing."
In the play, Vera is 91, and still a "progressive" who still has her concerns about Cuba and Africa. Leo, in his 20, has just ridden his bicycle to New York from Seattle. When Vera offers him a banana, he says, "A -- no! Whoa, jet fuel."
He needs a place to stay, partly because his girlfriend, Bec -- "She's not chubby ... she's healthy, strong" - has broken up with him, and partly because he loves his grandmother.
"Well it's been a lousy coupla months for you then, between one thing and another," Vera says, hinting at the main tragedy of Leo's life, which slowly unfolds as we go along, watching these two people do what they can to take care of each other.
The last scene of the play is a marvel of subtle beauty.
"Vera and Leo persevere," said Gowland, in a phone interview. "We talked a lot about that in rehearsals. This generation -- the generation I am part of -- gets a bad rap, as being really coddled. A generation that maybe has not earned their world view the way Vera's generation has. ...
"We're a generation that has been afforded financial opportunities no other generation has had. The world is waiting to see how we are using those opportunities. The more opportunities you have, the more you can waste. It's a question that weighs heavily on our generation."
"4000 Miles" was kind of a last-minute addition to the A.C.T. season, replacing a planned production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." That Tennessee Williams classic was yanked under A.C.T.'s feet by a planned national tour of its Broadway production.
"We are thrilled, though," said A.C.T. artistic director Carey Perloff in a statement, "to announce that we have been awarded the honor of producing the West Coast premiere of Amy Herzog's acclaimed new American play, '4000 Miles.'"
The play had been produced in New York by the Lincoln Center Theater's new works initiative, and was so well received that it was moved off Broadway for a good run in 2012. Here is Charles Isherwood's extremely positive review in the New York Times, for instance.