La Boite Indie and Mophead & Catnip Productions
With the support of QPAC
April 30 – May 17 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Where do you go when you don’t know where else to be?
Leo goes to his grandmother’s apartment in New York City. He rocks up, unannounced, at three o’clock in the morning after a cross-country bike ride goes awry. Their relationship is a tender, balanced thing, and a beautiful study of the human heart and how we sometimes need help to pry it open again after shutting it up tight.
Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, the first of La Boite’s Indie season offerings, is as sweet and lively as they come; a perfect opener. If you looking for it, this production is a terrific class in American contemporary realism, with all the trappings, sure, including an initially over-earnest performance from Stephen Multari (Leo) and arguably, a good deal of overwriting towards the end. But Multari’s performance pans out and he proves himself perfectly cast by the time we get to the point of what I suspect might be the next most-popular-male-monologue-in-the-world, which reveals the nitty gritty gruesome detail of his bicycle escapades between Seattle and Manhattan. It’s delivered from out of the shadows after midnight and in its written and spoken forms it’s quite simply perfect. For the senior drama students who insist on seeking more and more explicit examples of A+ performances so they know what they need to do to achieve a similar result in performing tasks (and fair enough, too), there it is, in those moments, with only Multari’s jaw line lit by a desk lamp, leaving his desperate gestures – and the rest of his life – in anticipatory pre-dawn darkness. Multari will play Trip Wyeth in Other Desert Cities for Ensemble Theatre later this year so if you’re nearby, get to that to see more from him.
Diana McLean (Vera) gives a beautifully measured performance, one of the most surprisingly endearing I’ve seen in a long time. It’s little wonder that this performance earned her a Best Leading Actress nomination in the Sydney Theatre Awards last year. McLean plays with the slightly suppressed Wild Woman archetype, and with the enduring qualities of a long life of acceptance and stubbornness. She’s ninety-one and she’s lost none of her spunk and very little of her mobility, which seems reasonable considering her spirited outlook on life. Herzog’s grandmother, Leepee Joseph, on whom Vera is based, was satisfied with the depiction when she saw the original production starring Mary Louise Wilson and said to Herzog of the character, “You captured what I said and put it in the proper place and made it flow”. I’m convinced that both Joseph and Herzog would also approve of McLean’s detailed portrayal. Her mastery is highlighted in a comical scene at dawn, which reveals some of Vera’s sadness without being overwritten or played for laughs. We laugh because Vera can’t finish her sentences but manages to roll much more quickly a neater joint than her grandson. In each comical moment though, there’s just a little bit of heartbreak to remind us that life doesn’t always give us what we ask of it. And the sun rises regardless. And we are loved.
It should probably be said that there are those of us who mind more than others, the occasional lapse in accents from both McLean and Multari. Sam is one who is fairly unforgiving, but being a story girl first and foremost, and never letting an accent get in the way of a good story, I’m going to hope that things like Multari’s “Sore-ey” is a character choice and not an indication of not knowing where he comes from. I have to admit it always makes me smile to picture Gil from Anne of Green Gables (“I’m Sore-ey, Anne!”), so I’m actually okay with it. Naturally, Sam says I’m too forgiving. We have such interesting
arguments debates heated discussions lively conversations after a show.
Joanna Downing (Bec) is delightful once she settles, and Aileen Huynh (Amanda) provides frenetic energy at a funny, fluid, drunken pace that gives her plenty of opportunities to embrace the physicality of what would be a one-off special guest appearance in a film or network series. And it’s the episodic nature of the storytelling that lets us get to know the characters so well in so little time. At 90 minutes (no interval), 4000 Miles seems like it might succeed very well as a film or television series and I’d love to see Herzog’s plays adapted for screen, especially Belleville. (4000 Miles is the second play, a companion play to After the Revolution, and the winner of the Obie Awards’ Best New American Play in 2012, Time’s #1 Play or Musical of 2012 and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama Finalist in 2013). Of course, the beauty of live theatre is that we actually get up close and personal, and in the intimate indie space of The Roundhouse, converted to seat just 100 patrons, we do feel as if we’re sitting in the same living room as Leo and Vera, the proverbial flies on the wall.
Director, Anthony Skuse, has discovered within the text the most delicate aspects of the relationship between grandparent and grandchild, teasing out every nuance and idiosyncrasy from his actors to construct one of the most honest and essential relationships on stage this year. Supported by a creative team comprising Gez Xavier Mansfield (Set and Costume Design), Sara Swersky (Lighting Design) and Marty Jamieson (Composer and Sound Designer), the vision of Vera’s lived-in Manhattan apartment is complete. And the sun rises, and the world keeps turning. And it seems Herzog was reluctant to ever end the tale (insert bad metaphor for life here) so a number of plausible endings make themselves apparent, including Vera’s very funny response to the moving monologue mentioned earlier. But it’s not the end. Not even the end is the end, which is as it should be.
Yes, you can go ahead and argue that the Indie programs should be supporting local talent exclusively, but when you do, remember that for this to be the case, we would miss some of the most delicious, warming food for the soul that comes to us from somewhere else just when we appear to need it most. This play is programming gold and this production is a rare treat. I hope we continue to see its like at La Boite.
The next special treat, which comes to us from North Queensland, is Niz Jabour’s Mullah Nasrudin, and at the same time, the next local dish is Richard Jordan’s Machina. (Keep an eye out for upcoming interviews!). You can see two Indie productions for just $39 with a La Boite Indie Sampler and you can enjoy the remaining five for $95 so there’s really no excuse for missing out on anything now, is there? Get a group of friends and/or family members together, get to the theatre and keep the conversation going!