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. I took Bruce's comments to highlight a glaring issue when it comes to a state's image, and therefore its overall branding. An example is Michigan vs. Indiana. Michigan has done an excellent job of following through on its branding strategy around "Pure Michigan", even down to the detail of the rest stops. Since a state's branding is often targeted to visitors, it makes sense that rest stops, being that point of first impression, should be significant. It is clear that Indiana doesn't care as much about the impression it gives visitors even though our branding as the Crossroads of America does place importance on travel. Bruce's point is quite logical and accurate.

  2. I appreciated the article. I guess I have become so accustomed to making my "pit stops" at places where I can ALSO get gasoline and something hot to eat, that I hardly even notice public rest stops anymore. That said, I do concur with the rationale that our rest stops (if we are to have them at all) can and should be both fiscally-responsible AND designed to make a positive impression about our state.

  3. I don't know about the rest of you but I only stop at these places for one reason, and it's not to picnic. I move trucks for dealers and have been to rest areas in most all 48 lower states. Some of ours need upgrading no doubt. Many states rest areas are much worse than ours. In the rest area on I-70 just past Richmond truckers have to hike about a quarter of a mile. When I stop I;m generally in a bit of a hurry. Convenience,not beauty, is a primary concern.

  4. Community Hospital is the only system to not have layoffs? That is not true. Because I was one of the people who was laid off from East. And all of the LPN's have been laid off. Just because their layoffs were not announced or done all together does not mean people did not lose their jobs. They cherry-picked people from departments one by one. But you add them all up and it's several hundred. And East has had a dramatic drop I in patient beds from 800 to around 125. I know because I worked there for 30 years.

  5. I have obtained my 6 gallon badge for my donation of A Positive blood. I'm sorry to hear that my donation was nothing but a profit center for the Indiana Blood Center.

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