4000 Miles

by John Stoltenberg

Not five minutes into the Studio Theatre production of 4000 Miles, I knew that by the end I would be giving the play a standing ovation. The writing and the acting were that good, from the get-go.  I could tell I was going to love it. And I did. Every scene, every beat, every line.

Now, some might assume I came to the theater having read one too many raves of Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize–finalist drama, so maybe I was all hopped up to see a snob hit. I will concede I arrived with more than usual anticipation. But I did not expect to be so transported before the first scene-break blackout—and then completely blown away by the end.

How to explain this? And how to explain why Amy Herzog just became one of my very fave living English-speaking playwrights? To be honest, I was so mesmerized I’m not sure.

The four characters in 4000 Miles are a 20-something young man, Leo (played by Grant Harrison), who, having bicycled cross-country from Seattle drops in unexpectedly on his octogenarian grandmother, Vera (Tana Hicken), in her Greenwich Village apartment. Over the course of the play, which flashes forward scene by scene in time, Leo gets a visit from his probably-no-longer girlfriend, Bec (Heather Haney). And some time later he brings back to his grandmother’s apartment a woman he picked up, Amanda (Annie Chang). There is a lot of completely engrossing storytelling. But there’s really no big overarching Plot.

There’s just life. Real people connecting, disconnecting, speaking of this and that from the heart, from off the top of their heads, always from someplace profoundly human—with a verisimilitude I did not realize was so rare in theater until I witnessed how Herzog does it.

You know how lots of playwrights write dialogue so blatantly stagey that it can’t possibly ring true—but the hapless actors still have to inject some credible emotion into it? However much a line might delight or surprise the audience,  you just know the actor had to work to make it work. Maybe because Herzog was once an actor herself, she never foists such “Look at me, I’m writing!” language on her characters. She just seems to have gifted the cast, as if effortlessly, with an amazingly resonant score that if played as honestly and sensitively as she composed it will become on stage so like life that you cannot help but be swept into it.

What makes this production of 4000 Miles all the more glorious, all the more a peak theatrical experience, is that all four cast members—as masterfully directed by Joy Zinoman—play Herzog’s brilliant score pitch perfectly.

Really, truly, the best new play I’ve seen in years.