Regional Reviews: St. Louis
That's the climax.
But do not despair. All the 1,000 other things built into this revival of 4000 Milesthe emotional ups and downs, the semi-mysterious clashes, and the nuanced familial interrelationships that gradually ensnare usall combine to develop a strong, naturalistic, meaningful story for the characters on stage. It's a bit like the flare-ups that erupt from inside Uncle Vanya or The Cherry Orchard, or maybe even in TV's "Seinfeld." It's "a show about nothing," where emotional reality, beautiful and complex, comes sharply into focus.
But in terms of narrative, it's pretty insubstantial. Amy Herzog wrote this fluffy little cloud of a play (in what may be a self-mocking touch, there actually is a fluffy little cloud floating across stage at one point), which ran Off-Broadway in 2011, and here at the Repertory Theatre Of St. Louis in 2013. But this production at the New Jewish Theatre, directed by the Rep's Edward Coffield, takes a much more detailed, lingering look at a family spread across the country, at a time when they should all be drawn closer together.
Compared to that 2013 version, director Coffield encourages more detailed relationships to enhance all the strange little interstitial moments. This is a 4000 Miles that quietly focuses on the shock of psychological escape and release. Over and over, these people are suddenly shaken out of their "doomed present," to see their lives more clearly. They tremble out from their own feelings of failure like seedlings rising from the earth, or hatchlings poking out of their eggs.
Chris Tipp gives us a thoughtfully developed Leo, which is funny in itself, as Leo is ostensibly a bit of a burnout, bicycling across the country in search of, or perhaps escaping from, his own sense of self. He ends up at his grandmother's apartment in Greenwich Village, and each manages to reconcile their biggest personal concerns during the emotional structure of the play. Always impressive Amy Loui "plays up" in age as the grandmother, but in a thoughtful and believable way, and even seems to rejuvenate: re-awakening a younger self in the process of this 100-minute play.
I didn't actually check the time, but it "feels" like a modern, 100-minute play, full of idealistic convictions coming out of the mouths of people who may be too young to have any convictions at all (this is not a new element in the history of comedy). But don't be dissuaded, the young people here are the very first to admit they still have a lot to learn. And, as often happens, sheer exposure to young people makes Vera, the grandmother, feel young, too.
Rachel Fenton is subtly conflicted as Leo's on-again/off-again girlfriend, and Grace Langford has a jazzy little turn as Leo's overnight guest, executing a sort of emotional "triple-Lutz" in a short scene that runs the gamut from winsome, to teasing lust, to geopolitical/historical socio-economic devastation. It sounds clunky, but it's not.
There's outstanding attention to psychological detail in each and every performance, all of which overcomes the relative lack of dramatic structure in the three weeks covered in the play.
Through May 28, 2017, at the Jewish Community Center, #2 Millstone Campus Drive, 63146. For more information visit www.newjewishtheatre.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association