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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Lovely Moving Production of
Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles

Also see Richard's reviews of Somewhere and Our Practical Heaven


Reggie Gowland and
Susan Blommaert

American Conservatory Theatre is presenting the charming clash-of-generations comedy drama 4000 Miles at their theatre through February 10th. There is little to fault in director Mark Rucker's smart handling of Herzog's generational play about a 21-year-old college student who takes refuge in his 91-year-old grandmother's New York apartment after his best friend is killed on their cross-country bike trip. It is true that the supporting players are not fully fleshed out, but, the playwright organizes her greatest strengths with some very sparkling dialogue between the old lady and the college student. She illuminates the very important things two very different generations have to say to one another, even when they withhold the important stuff or when they're talking past each other.

Vera Joseph (Susan Blommaert) is a strong minded woman who excels at being independent. She has a strong spine and a sharp tongue. Vera has survived her husband, and most of her friends are dead, but she still has a divergent spirit from her Marxist days. Her grandson Leo (Reggie Gowland) has just arrived in the middle of the night from a 4000 mile bike trip. Something is bothering this morose youth, but he does not say what. His grandmother lets him stay in her apartment and makes no impossible demands of him.

During Leo's stay, Vera speaks aloud her thoughts about the young man and his mother, who has been in therapy because Leo French kissed his sister years ago. The lonely old lady becomes comfortable and even happy to have someone else in the house. We learn more about Leo through his estranged girlfriend Bec (Julia Lawler) and Amanda (Camille Mana), the air-head art student he picks up at a bar. We learn more about the unusual accident with Leo's friend Micah that occurred on their travels east, as Leo goes into a wonderful monologue toward the end of the 90 minute play.

Susan Blommaert (New York The Metal Children, Mary Rose and Phaedra at the Vineyard) is magnificent as Vera. She etches a shockingly honest portrait of egotism, moral simplicity and flintiness in the character.

Reggie Gowland (The Taming of the Shrew at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival) is excellent as the confused defensive neo-hippie Leo. Their prickly, warm interplay is perfect. Julia Lawler (A.C.T. debut after understudying 4000 miles at Lincoln Center Theatre) gives a very good performance as Bec, Leo's ex-girlfriend. Camille Mana (Asuncion) gives an engaging performance as the art student Amanda.

Director Mark Rucker never lets his actors force the humor and anguish, and his stage, stunningly lit by Alexander V, Nichols, throbs with the rhythm of accurate life. Set designer Erik Flatmo has invented a generic little-old-lady rent-controlled apartment in the Village and added just the right touches to personalize it as the home of a real person.

4000 Miles plays through February 10th at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org Coming up next is the world premiere of George F. Walker's political comedy Dead Metaphor, starting on February 28th and running through March 24th.

Photo: Kevin Berne


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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