Worth all "4000 Miles"

Theater review: Worth all ‘4000 Miles’ at NC Stage Co.

JIM CAVENER4:57 p.m. EDT October 12, 2015


Getting stoned with your grandmother in a Greenwich Village apartment isn’t a common experience for many young 20-somethings, even in states like Colorado and Washington, where it might be legal.

That scene is not the core of the current NC Stage Co. production of “4000 Miles,” but it gives some idea of how captivating and contemporary is this coming-of-age tale of young Leo who bikes 4000 miles from Seattle to Manhattan to visit his 90-something grandma.

Leo, convincingly conveyed by Dusty McKeelan, is an idealistic and adventuresome lad who headed off to Washington’s Evergreen State College (sort of a public Warren Wilson), where he honed his concerns for the welfare of the globe but didn’t make as much progress in his cultivating sound judgement or responsible planning for the future.

Almost obsessed with recycling and solar panels, and with a lack of focus on his own welfare, he and a close buddy (and possible lover) undertake a cross-continent bike trip during which major tragedy ensues.

Still in shock and sorrow, Leo arrives unannounced at the Gotham home of his maternal grandma, Vera. Grandma is still tender over the long-before death of her husband, and though separated by two generations, these two become soulmates, each learning some of life’s hard lessons from the other.

Leo vacillates between staying with grandma for a “couple of days” and not wanting to leave, alone, on his return journey to an earlier life.

Vera is a feisty, fussy, independent and strong crone who is beginning to realize the loss of all her peers, and is most endearing and vulnerable as presented by regional social activist and theater maven Barbara Bates Smith. This is a role that not every aging actor could develop so thoroughly.

Smith and McKeelan play off each other with a synchronicity and synergy that is beguiling and compelling. These two simply carry the show.

There are two other, much smaller, roles in Amy Herzog’s script – so small one almost wonders if they were necessary. Trinity Smith is always effective on stage and lives up to her reputation in the role of Bec, who does slightly enrich the mix, as does Emma Stoneberg as Amanda. Each in her own way helps along the story line and can hardly be imagined to be better cast, though hardly integral to the action.

Director Charlie Flynn-McIver finds good folks in our regional talent pool and shapes them into fine ensembles.

The mid-century modern (Scandinavian simple) decor of Vera’s rent-controlled NYC apartment is a visual delight as concocted by Julie Ross, who makes the pieces fit together well. Stage lighting is usually best when not noticed, as was most of the work of Wally Eastland in this show, but the exemplary work of this Asheville-born, Australian-based lighting designer was more than noted, particularly in the moonlight-over-Manhattan scene with Vera and Leo on the coach. Memorable imagery.

The tender and touching dialog by playwright Amy Herzog shows a master wordsmith who writes contemporary conversation with the best of ’em. Herzog is a product of the Yale School of Drama and some of her works have first been produced by the Yale Rep. For “4000 Miles” she won the Obie Award for best new American drama, and she’s also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Jim Cavener writes on theater and the performing arts for the Citizen-Times. Email him at jimcavener@aya.yale.edu.


What: “4000 Miles” at North Carolina Stage Co.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 25.

Where: 15 Stage Lane (off Walnut Street), downtown Asheville.

Tickets: $16-$32, www.ncstage.com, 239-0263.

(Photo: Courtesy of NC Stage Co.)