Theater Review: NC Stage 4000 Miles

N.C. Stage Company kicks off its 14th season with a show that is a perfect representation of what the organization continues to do exceptionally well — theater, up close and personal. Amy Herzog’s 4,000 Miles might seem like a low-impact way to start a new season, but it serves as a reminder of the power of theater to reach into the soul of the viewer.

Charlie Flynn-McIver directs a talented cast through a story of relationships, generations, love, loss and acceptance. That it plays out on a vividly realistic stage set makes the audience feel more like they are viewing a series of real life events rather than a well-crafted production. Julie K. Ross‘s scenic design is as much a star of the show as the actors, as it gives them a lifelike environment in which to work.

The story is simple enough at the outset. Leo has arrived in New York after riding his bike from Seattle, and he has stunned his Grandmother, Vera with his arrival. As things unfold, we learn that Leo is a bit lost, having set out on the cross-country journey with his best friend, who died along the way. What starts as a night to get his bearings, rest up and then get back on the road extends into weeks as Leo and Vera begin to fill voids in each other’s life.

It’s nearly impossible to tell whether Dusty McKeelan actually is Leo, or just a great actor embodying the part. He’s so effective in the role, you would swear it was written for him. The same can be said of his co-star, Barbara Bates Smith. Her Vera is funny without turning her into a cartoonish, sassy old-lady character. There’s a deep emotional resonance in her performance. Leo is a young man lost in the middle of his life’s journey. Vera is an old woman, lost near the end of her life’s journey. Together, they find a bridge that helps them both find common ground and peace. Their journey is both funny, moving and uplifting.

Trinity Smith and Emma Stoneberg play supporting roles in the show, adding splashes of color to the palette. Smith gets a couple of scenes that have an painfully real impact on the audience, as we witness her struggle to end the relationship with Leo. It’s messy, frustrating and familiar to anyone who has been there themselves.

WHAT: 4,000 Miles

WHERE: N.C. Stage Company

WHEN: Through Sunday, Oct 25, performances Wednesdays to Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays, at 2 p.m. $16-$32

Barbara Bates Smith, left, and Dusty McKeelan star in "4,000 Miles" at N.C. Stage. Photo courtesy of the theater company