4000 Miles by Park Square Theatre

Gabriel Murphy and Linda Kelsey in 4000 Miles.

Gabriel Murphy and Linda Kelsey in 4000 Miles.

It’s those tell-tale hugs. Sweet, warm and tender, tension dissipating. Complete with comforting pats on the back: there, there. I think you’re just swell. I’m so glad you are who you are. Gosh.

The hugs will clue you in: there’s no real danger in this play, little drama. It’s all about wordless healing, the coziness of family. Nicey-nice.

Which is not to say there are no pleasures in Amy Herzog‘s lyrical 4000 Miles (on Park Square‘s new Boss Stage, through Dec 21); indeed, there are many. The story, though quite familiar, is handled with admirable taste and intelligence. Leo, covered with road dirt and reeking of weeks of perspiration, has bicycled to NYC (from Seattle) and is now staying with his grandmother Vera, having been emphatically turned away by his girlfriend (at 3 AM). Leo, we discover indirectly (this is where Herzog’s intelligence and her inspiring regard for her characters comes in) is a wounded bird. He has witnessed the horrible death of his biking companion, has engaged in incestuous behavior with his sister, has stayed away from his friend’s funeral, has washed up in NYC penniless, jobless, wracked with guilt, at his wit’s end. His lefty grandma takes him in, and without seeming to try (Herzog’s high-mindedness once again) heals him. He finds a job, gives his girlfriend a good-bye hug, and off he and Grandma go (to a funeral).

Vera is played by the estimable Linda Kelsey. Initially I was frightened that I might have to employ the C-word – caricature – when I described Kelsey. And occasionally, yes, as when Vera struggles groaning to her feet, Kelsey’s performance does veer near caricature. But all in all, Kelsey work is smart, compelling, lovely, a rich portrait of a woman nearing the end of her life with dignity and zest. “I hate not being able to find my words,” Vera says and we feel, thanks to Kelsey’s arresting performance, her frustration.

I’m not going to describe it in detail (I don’t wish to ruin it for you) but Vera’s reaction to Leo’s lengthy description of his friend’s death is priceless; it still make me giggle. Kelsey does marvelous work, and she makes 4000 Miles well worthwhile.

Darn good also is Gabriel Murphy as Leo. Tall, lanky, bent (literally) with pain and confusion, Murphy’s relentless cheerfulness belies his lostness and that Murphy never gives into it makes it all the more vivid. It’s a breezy, but deeply felt performance. Nice turns are provided also by Becca Hart as Leo’s pissed-off girlfriend and by Joann Oudeberk as his angry and confused one-night stand.

4000 Miles is, I believe, the second play on the Boss Stage (and my first). The Boss is a true arena and for some reason, with this play, much of action is placed way upstage. Give yourself a few extra minutes to find the theater (and don’t rely on the rude upstairs BO people).

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book Tell Me A Story In The Dark will be published in March. Recently, John has completed a novel (Deep River), a play (an adaptation of The Sisters Eight) and two screenplays (A Slaying Song Tonight and The Deflowering Of Young Father Trimleigh). For more info, please visit John’s (recently updated) website.

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