AISLE SAY San Francisco

4000 MILES

by Amy Herzog
Directed by Mark Rucker
Presented by and at the American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary St. at Mason, San Francisco / (415) 749-2228

Reviewed by Judy Richter

It's 3 a.m. when a 21-year-old man arrives at his 91-year-old grandmother's Greenwich Village apartment. The incessant buzzer finally awakens her, and she opens the door to him and his heavily laden bicycle. He has just completed a cross country bicycle trip and hopes to stay for a day or two. Thus begins Amy Herzog's award-winning 2011 play, "4000 Miles," presented by American Conservatory Theater.

Often funny, this work looks at how ecoconscious Leo Joseph-Connell (Reggie Gowland), a bit of a New Ager, interacts with the feisty Vera Joseph (Susan Blommaert), who takes pride in having been a communist. Now, though, politics are less important than personal interactions.

When he arrives, the easy-going Leo is self-absorbed, mostly oblivious to how his actions have affected some of the people closest to him. In short, he's a jerk.

Vera has lived alone since her husband's death 10 years ago. She manages fairly well even though age is catching up with her. She wears dentures; she needs hearing aids; and she has a stooped walk, probably because of arthritis and/or osteoporosis. Most frustrating to her, though, is that it's hard for her to find words she wants to use.

The only other characters are Bec (Julia Lawler), Leo's girlfriend who's breaking up with him; and Amanda (Camille Mana), a Chinese American woman he picks up one night probably for a fling, but that episode ends on a negative note. There are several unseen characters, though, including Leo's adoptive sister, Lily, who's also Chinese American; Micah, his best friend, who died on the bicycle trip; and Leo's mother, from whom he's estranged.

During the course of the one-act play, which runs about an hour and a half, Leo starts to confront his grief over Micah's death. He also becomes more considerate of others' feelings and realizes he needs to patch up relations with his immediate family in Minnesota. He's finally beginning to grow up. However, his departure leaves one wondering how Vera will manage. She'll be OK for a while, but she has lost most of her immediate support system, and she's becoming more fragile.

Director Mark Rucker and his capable cast make each character believable and the action natural. Blommaert as Vera ages herself 26 years from her true age of 65 through her demeanor and actions. It's an impressive transformation.

Erik Flatmo has created the comfy apartment (lighted by Alexander V. Nichols) with, among other details, its shelves of books and a variety of art on the walls. The character-defining costumes are by Alex Jaeger with sound by Will McCandless.

Because so much information is revealed through conversation rather than action, one must listen carefully to learn more about the seen and unseen characters as well as a lot of background. Some of this was lost on opening night because the actors didn't always pause long enough to allow laughter to subside after amusing lines.

Otherwise, this is a thought-provoking play by an up-and-coming playwright who based parts of it on her own family.

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