4000 miles of joyous journey

4000 Miles (La Boite Indie and Mophead & Catnip Productions)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

April 30 – May 17

La Boite Indie’s “4000 Miles” is a show is about journeys; its title refers to the length of the trek from coast to coast America, a journey that protagonist Leo has taken on his way from Seattle to New York City. But more than this, it also represents a metaphor for his coming of age.

The story begins with young and angry Leo, (Stephen Multari) having finished a cycling trek across the country, arriving at the rent-controlled West Village apartment his grandmother shared with her late husband. It is 3am and Leo is carrying a heavy burden as he tries to escape his emotional demons and avoid a family confrontation.  A widow of 10 years, Vera (Diana McLean) considers Leo’s unexpected arrival to be both a disruption and a welcome opportunity for human contact (she is the last of a group of elderly friends), and as one night turns into a month, they develop a special bond as the play’s complications build to revelations about Leo’s trip, the recollection of which unfolds in a monologue that he shares with Vera one night. It is an engrossing scene that encapsulates the emotional truth of this tender evocation of the endurance of family.

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Although contemporary in nature, “4000 Miles” has a traditional, Chekhov-ish feel in the realism with which it explores the nuances of the rapport between Leo and Vera; theirs is a relationship not so much of grandson and grandmother, but of good friends who happen to be related. Indeed, despite their differences, they share a lot in terms of regrets and frustrations. And the surprising parallel between the two generations is a delight to discover courtesy of the sincerity of Amy Herzog’s writing. In 90 minutes (without interval) of intimacy, she captures the essence and language of the family unit in a way that resonates in both its comedy and pathos.

There are some beautifully sensitive moments between Multari and McLean, without resorting to clichés or playing scenes only for laughs. And the result is a work of intelligence and subtlety, and one of the most honest and essential relationships I have seen on stage in a long while. Herzog based Vera on her own grandmother, Leepee Joseph, who she describes as “funny, dry, sassy, and devastating” and although she isn’t very grandmotherly, we have immediate affection for this intriguing character.

While there are other characters within the show, both seen (Leo’s girlfriend Bec and drunken one-night stand Amanda) and unseen, this is really the story of the relationship between an elderly, old world Leftie grandmother and her neo-hippie grandson. Diana McLean gives an empathetic performance as the straight-talking Vera, capturing her frustration with her shaky memory and struggle for articulation, while Stephen Multari plays the part of cheeky but loving grandson with natural aplomb.

“4000 Miles” is an unpretentious aesthetic experience that does not yearn for audience approval. It is a small drama, confined to one room, yet it offers much authenticity in its New York apartment living room stage setting. An impressive soundtrack, too, adds to the sophistication of its simplicity through its incorporation of background noise of passing traffic, for example.

“4000 Miles” is a charming and emotionally compelling drama, without being overly sentimental. And, as such, it gives audiences everything they should want from theatre: a humble, compassionate, thought-provoking story, some comic entertainment and a wonderful display of acting talent. It is not only a joyous journey but a welcomed Indie inclusion that would be comfortably at home on any mainstage.

Photos c/o – http://www.laboite.com.au

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