Review: '4000 Miles' at the Phoenix Theatre

May 10, 2013
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Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles,” being given a luminously low-key production at the Phoenix Theatre (through June 9), does what seems to be a simple thing but is actually a rarity in contemporary theater.

It lets its characters be.

Not-so-fresh from a bike ride across the country, Leo (Purdue theater student Andrew Martin—think Scooby-Doo’s Shaggy without a dog, friends, or supernatural mysteries to solve) arrives at the apartment of his grandmother in New York. He’s primarily riding away from things—the death of his best friend, an awkward encounter with his adopted sister, responsibility in general—rather than toward anything. His ex-girlfriend visits. So does a potential new conquest (a breath of smartly drawn fresh air from actress Arianne Villareal).

But the play focuses on Leo and his grandmother, Vera (Martha Jacobs, earning rather than demanding respect, laughs, and tears). She’s an octogenarian more angry than sad about the moments when her “head isn’t really right.” She takes him in, listens (when her hearing aid is turned on) and, well, don’t look for tons of plot twists and shocking revelations. Herzog has subtler things in mind.

Neither her leads nor her supporting characters are generic types. They are specific people. Every quirk doesn’t have a late-in-the-show payoff. Their issues aren’t resolved with hugs (although there are some beautiful, complex hugging moments). They are living through their specific, sometimes messy, lives and Herzog respects that, which is enormously refreshing.

The only place the narrative stumbled for me was in a revelatory monologue that’s overwritten and unnecessarily absurd. Thankfully, the scene is smartly directed and beautifully acted, ending in the magical transformation of what could be a bring-down-the-house punchline into a sweet, truthful, and far more satisfying moment.  

I usually avoid seeing a show in its first public performance, but on May 9, “4000 Miles” showed no signs of just ramping up. Transitions could and should be tightened to avoid energy drain and the wise and right final scene felt a tad rushed. But those are minor issues and may well be worked out by the time you take your journey to the Phoenix to see what may well be the most fully realized production of the Indy theater season.

Your thoughts?

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  1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

  2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

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  4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

  5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

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