Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: '4000 Miles' an amusing change of pace at American Stage

American Stage presents 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog, directed by Benjamin T. Ismail. L-R: Dani Faitelson as Bec, Maya Handa Naff as Amanda, Janis Stevens as Vera (in chair), and Casey Worthington as Leo  Photo by Joey Clay

American Stage presents 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog, directed by Benjamin T. Ismail. L-R: Dani Faitelson as Bec, Maya Handa Naff as Amanda, Janis Stevens as Vera (in chair), and Casey Worthington as Leo Photo by Joey Clay

ST. PETERSBURG — A cycling trek from coast to coast plus a fateful side trip in the middle add up to roughly 4,000 miles.

In Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles, distance is a human condition that can be overcome.

The comedic drama by the Pulitzer finalist, currently in production at American Stage, nabbed a 2012 Obie Award for its understated honesty and humor.

Directed with a deft, judicious touch by Benjamin T. Ismail, 4000 Miles begins with 21-year-old cyclist Leo (Casey Worthington) showing up at 3 a.m. on the West Village doorstep of his grandmother Vera (Janis Stevens). Having just pedaled cross-country, Leo insists he's only staying overnight after his unfiltered grandmother voices her disapproval of him not calling his mother.

Leo winds up staying with the Marxist matriarch a solid month. During that time, the two bicker, bond, share a bong and learn a few things about one another.

Leo, a crunchy granola stoner type who shuns technology, has been on the outs with his parents and girlfriend after a horrific accident en route to New York. Though goofy at times, Worthington avoids caricature in his portrayal of Leo. He is both funny and sympathetic as the hapless youth.

Through bits of exposition, we learn that Leo has let down just about everyone he knows, but living with his fierce but increasingly frail grandmother leads to personal redemption.

The contradictory facets of feisty, eccentric Vera win Leo and the audience over under Stevens' command. According to Herzog's script, she's "tiny and frail but not without fortitude." The Drama Desk Award nominee nails her portrayal with a pitch-perfect performance. Stevens conveys Vera's integrity, irreverence, tremors and speech/memory difficulties with natural finesse, making us realize the pitfalls of age without obvious tugs at our heartstrings.

Interesting side note: Vera is based on Herzog's grandmother, and her story is also explored in the playwright's first play, After the Revolution. In 4000 Miles, biographical facts about Herzog's real-life elder come to light via both Vera and an unseen neighbor next door.

Stevens and Worthington's co-stars bring dimension to their more broadly scripted characters. Dani Faitelson convincingly plays Leo's frustrated girlfriend, Bec, an ambitious grad student at her wit's end.

Maya Handa Naff, who recently fought off Victorian-era walkers in Freefall Theatre's The Importance of Being Earnest with Zombies, brings some surprising dimension to Amanda, the bimbo-ish socialite Leo brings home for a one night stand. The Chinese-American fashionista becomes deeply offended when she sees Communist literature on Vera's bookshelves, invoking the struggle of her parents and grandparents.

Speaking of those shelves, the Manhattan apartment envisioned by scenic designer Steve Mitchell (with assistance by Robert Creedon and Betty Jane Parks) is surprisingly realistic — what you'd picture a home inhabited by an elderly widow who reads the New York Times arts section would look like. Modern art books and tasteful decor juxtapose with antiquated fixtures like a yellow rotary phone.

Both Ismail's direction and Chris Baldwin's gentle lighting makes us feel like we're in the living room with Vera and Leo. Catherine Cann further conveys the believability with her on-point costume design, complemented by Rachel Harrison's sound effects and Stephen Ray's capable stage management.

4000 Miles is the only play in American Stage's 2015-16 season set in the 21st century, offering more irreverent humor and playful nods to contemporary culture than other offerings at Pinellas playhouses. Sophisticated productions in the same vein would no doubt draw younger audiences and may be more reflective of the theater's next season, hinted at by producing artistic director Stephanie Gularte in her welcome speech.

If you go

4000 Miles runs through April 10 at American Stage. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with matinees at 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. $39-$49. 163 Third St. N., St. Petersburg. americanstage.org.

Review: '4000 Miles' an amusing change of pace at American Stage 03/21/16 [Last modified: Monday, March 21, 2016 2:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Oct. 18

    Events

    Dali and Schiaparelli: Opening Day: A retrospective exhibit of designer Elsa Schiaparelli and her collaborations with Dali. It features gowns, accessories, sketches, objects and photos, as well as new designs from the House of Schiaparelli. Remains on display through Jan. 14. 10 a.m., Dali Museum, 1 Dali Blvd. …

  2. Fresh figs take a starring role in this fig cake

    Cooking

    Figs are showy fruit.

    They can't help themselves. Even the plainest, drabbest fig will reveal a scarlet belly, flecked with shimmering seeds, once you take a bite. Whether they're sliced or halved, arranged in a tart shell, on a crostini or just on a plate, there are few visions more enticing. This is why most fig …

    Chopping fresh figs and folding them into cake batter is not something you usually see, but that’s exactly what happens in this recipe for fig cake.
  3. As Faith Hill and Tim McGraw come to Tampa, here's why their love fascinates and endures

    Music & Concerts

    Eight years ago, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill stood on the sidelines of Raymond James Stadium, waiting for Hill's cue to perform America the Beautiful before Super Bowl XLIII. He held her hand and they kissed as the Steelers, Cardinals and a television audience of 150 million waited in the wings.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw perform during the “Soul2Soul” World Tour at Staples Center on July 14 in Los Angeles.
  4. From the food editor: Five things I'm enjoying in the food world right now

    Cooking

    Sometimes your notebook is scribbled with little thoughts here and there, things you come across in the food world and want to share but aren't sure how or when. Well, folks, I need to get some of this off my chest. Here is a somewhat random collection of culinary things I am really enjoying right now:

    Espresso Sea Salt Cookie Sandwiches with a cooked buttercream frosting, from St. Petersburg home bakery Wandering Whisk Bakeshop. Photo by Jennifer Jacobs.
  5. Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins: Yacht rock paradise at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday

    Music & Concerts

    Frosty wine coolers and a misty sunset sea breeze. White linen pants and a tilted captain's hat. Coconut milk and an awful lot of rum.

    Kenny Loggins performs during Little Kids Rock Benefit 2016 at Capitale on October 5, 2016 in New York City.