ACT’s ‘4000 Miles’ Tenderly Targets Granny, Grandson

A 91-year-old granny who's still a Commie-Pinko-Fellow Traveler teaches her neo-hippie grandson, 21, a thing or two about life.

My review of 4000 Miles requires only four words: It’s sweet. See it.

But you have to get there in a hurry — it's only scheduled to run through tomorrow night.

Prefer a little embellishment? OK then, here goes…

Playwright Amy Herzog, 33, has written a thoroughly charming, tender show about Vera, a 91-year-old granny who’s still a full-blooded Commie-Pinko-Fellow Traveler, and her 21-year-old neo-hippie grandson Leo, a latter-day armchair anarchist stuck in a belated coming-of-age learning curve.

He unexpectedly visits her slightly rundown, rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment after a cross-country bike trip that’s left him smelly, broke, frazzled, confused and intensely desirous of comfort and love.

He last was there a decade ago, for the funeral of her Marxist editor-writer husband.

More often than not, he calls her Vera or “dude.”

They’re uncomfortable together, and director Mark Rucker underscores those awkward moments by using lengthy pauses that counter the crisp dialogues in the American Conservatory Theater show in San Francisco.

As any semi-astute theatergoer might predict, Vera eventually meets most of the young man’s needs, unscrambling his mind and emotions along the way. He, of course, simultaneously helps her come to grips with her current life instead of focusing on the past or the habituated behaviors that no longer serve her well.

4000 Miles is more than the sum of its parts, though: Herzog turns a soft, endearing, often humorous series of vignettes into a sympathetic single-act portrait of, as the old song lyric goes, people who need people.

The play’s most dramatic moments take place offstage or in conversation, yet not once did I think the piece could be improved by an explosion, stabbing or car chase.

The comic drama, which deftly contrasts leftist politics of yesteryear with those of today, is staged without frills: The characters simply talk to each another.

Their venue, Vera’s apartment, should be recognizable as one inhabited by Every American Widow.

But the main characters’ flesh-and bloodness shouldn’t surprise anybody who googled Herzog’s background — Vera was directly inspired by the playwright’s now 96-year-old grandmother (who’s not above protesting in the streets yet).

4000 Miles also leans on a six-month stint the writer, then a novice actor, had spent living with the old lady in The Big Apple.

It was a period in which, she has contended, “It wasn’t clear the relationship would survive.”

The playwright also lifts another page from her mental autobiography: She’d made a painful, exhausting eight-week 4,250-mile trip across the United States with Habitat for Humanity.

Plot highlights, ranging from droll to poignant, include Vera detailing her husband’s sexual affairs; the bizarre death of Leo’s best friend, Micah; a misimpression about Leo kissing his adopted sister, Lily; and a granny-grandson stoner session that celebrates the autumnal equinox.

Susan Blommaert, wholly believable as Vera (although the actor is actually much, much younger), finds a synchronistic stage partnership in Reggie Gowland as the youth.

The show, which runs only an hour and 20 minutes without intermission (and which won two Obie Awards for its 2011 Lincoln Center staging in Manhattan), is not a sequel to Herzog’s After the Revolution despite Vera being a continuing character.

Speaking of characters, Camille Mana gloriously renders Amanda as a high-energy art student and Leo pickup who’s an almost-one-night-stand. She appears in only one scene but nearly steals the show.

OMG. It seems I’ve written a deluge of words. I probably should have stopped at the pithier “It’s sweet. See it.”

4000 Miles plays at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco, through Feb. 10. Performances Tuesdays through Sundays, 8 p.m.; matinees, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets: $20 to $105. Information: (415) 749-2228 or www.act-sf.org.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

David Behrs February 11, 2013 at 09:16 PM
Great blog Woody! Give me a holler when you can. D. Behrs
Woody Weingarten's blog February 12, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Mr. B: I tried but got a recording that the number "isn't accepting calls at this time." How 'bout trying me, instead, at 415-459-3434. Mr. W


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