Leo is 21. His grandmother Vera is 91. She’s widowed, and lives alone in her Greenwich Village apartment. On this particular 3 a.m. in September, Leo shows up at her door, with his bicycle. He’s just completed a cross-country trek — Seattle to New York. He needs a place to crash for the night.
She takes him in, of course. He’s kin, it’s what families do. And not only that, he’s been out of touch with the family, drifting and unemployed. She’s worried about him. And she’s lonely.
And thus begins the 125 intermission-less minutes of Amy Herzog’s gentle, oddly static yet ultimately very moving “4000 Miles,” currently on SCR’s Mainstage under David Emmes’ sure, nuanced direction of a magnificently committed company of actors.
If it sounds like a dual-generational Odd Couple, that’s because, in a way, that’s exactly what it is. Vera and Leo (whose sleepover stretches into a month, naturally) clash over banal roommate-style crises (Who broke the bathroom faucet!?), and there are the predictable generation-gap gags (when he asks where’s the nearest gym, she hauls out her hard-copy Manhattan Yellow Pages, bulky and antique as a raccoon coat).
Vera (the funny, superbly grounded Jenny O’Hara) is a hard-bitten New Yorker in the best tradition. Leo (a fiercely focused, bravely honest Matt Caplan) is an opinionated millenial brat from St. Paul. By what miracle should they get along?
And yet a plausible symbiosis grows between them. It seems they share a passion for far-left causes. They smoke pot one night. She offers him sage (albeit retro) advice about girls. It is by way of these simple moments of connection that we come to care about Vera and Leo, together and separately.
Ultimately, however, it seems to be Herzog’s point that, despite our yearning to connect, we don’t, or can’t, or won’t, in the end get very close to one another. Through no fault of either of them, Leo and his longtime girlfriend Bec (the heartbreakingly conflicted Rebecca Mozo – is there anyone this gifted SCR veteran cannot play?) are parting ways. Growing up and moving on. Leo’s biking buddy died on their trip in a freakish road accident involving a truckload of chickens. Random and cruel. A stab at a one night stand with a Chinese American girl (the adorable Klarissa Mesee) fizzles when she discovers that Leo’s grandmother was once a card-carrying Communist.
Leo, an idealist and sensitive soul in crisis, who yearns for life to make a kind of easy, loving sense, is learning instead that life is tough, people are selfish, and it’s possible to feel just as alone in New York City as in a Nebraska cornfield. Even the people who love you can only reach you so far.
Some might say Herzog’s play lacks theatricality, the shocking “event,” the big reversal; that it is, in fact, gutless. But her choice to quietly plumb the drama of our loneliness, trusting that that is drama enough, proves an act of courage, and a very moving one to see.
“4000 Miles” runs through November 17. For tickets, visit SCR.org or call (714) 708-5555.