Monday, May 4, 2015

4000 Miles—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

“Times, They Are A-Changin’”

This drama is by Amy Herzog and directed by Alana Byington.  It is playing at their space at SW Alder St. and 16th Ave. through May 24th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

In part, this is one man’s journey of distance.  But it is also a journey of ideas of people through time.  And ideas and people change or, better yet, evolve.  In this incarnation, it is about some real people considered revolutionary in their time, the 30’s and 40’s (as was the Group Theatre).  They were considered leftist in their political beliefs at the time because they believed in the power of the common man and were not afraid to expound on it, even if it meant being jailed.

But, as suggested, things evolve, grow older and, perhaps, mellower.  By now Vera (Vana O’Brien) is in her golden years, hard of hearing, forgetful, but still feisty.  Into this somewhat serene setting, drops her grandson, Leo (Joshua J. Weinstein), having accomplished a cross-country bike trip, from the West coast to NYC.  The purpose of his trip, at first, is unclear.  Is he heading toward something or running away from something?  Or is it just to reunite with family and, maybe, his old girlfriend, Bec (Carolyn Marie Monroe)?  Life simply washes over him at this point.

It seems that Grandma Vera secretly likes having him there but she won’t admit it.  But he, still restless, feels smothered by urban life.  He even picks up a street-wise girl name Amanda (Danielle Ma) and knows this is not his world (nor is it Vera’s, for that matter).  Both Vera and Leo seem to live in alternate worlds, she in the past, he in a state of Limbo.  But blood and old memories hold tight.  And together this bond of Love grows stronger.  Sometimes Hope springs from the oddest places.  But to say more would give away plot devices, so you’ll just have to see it.

The wonderful thing about Herzog’s script and Byington’s direction is that they keep it simple.  There are no earth-shattering denouncements or inspired revelations.  These are just ordinary people, trying to get by in a world they don’t identify with.  Vera’s has past her by and Leo is an outsider to this world.  But the need for human comfort and understanding is universal, so this play speaks to everyone.  Byington has a keen insight into the human condition and has her actors communicating on a down-to-earth level to us.

Weinstein conveys this lost soul, who pretends to be insulated to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” but is very vulnerable underneath.  He does a wonderful job of conveying that balance and you believe him.  Monroe, as the girlfriend, is in a conflicted state of wanting to see the world and help people, or stay grounded and cement a relationship.  She portrays well that person, as we all have been, at a crossroads, not knowing which way to run.  And Ma is good as the kooky, street-wise lady with a haunted past.

And, O’Brien, what a treasure we have in her!  She always lights up the stage when she’s in a show.  And this character she portrays is a continuation of the same person in After the Revolution at Portland Playhouse, which happens some years earlier.  I swear she is so convincing that one time when the character stumbled, I wanted to get up and help her.  Vera is a curmudgeon…a wisp of musty air just to let you know she’s still there…a dimming torch on heart-held secrets that say, I still care.  Every move O’Brien makes, has a reason and every breath, a meaning.  Bravo!  May we see many more years of you.

I recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.