4000 Miles @ Las Vegas Little Theatre

March 27, 2017

How relationships change over time is a curious thing. What obligates us to keep in touch with those who were with us incidentally from the start of life? And what about those most intimately connected with us, our family? True, we can admit that all these (hopefully) warm interactions with others provide nutrition to a growing body. But as we change and become new people, that influence probably wears off, until we are left with the question now asked: what makes their lives valuable for us still?
It is not as if society carries this burden over our heads. It is a personal decision to choose to stay in touch. Perhaps for the simplest rationale: gratitude. Gratitude for making us the way we are now. The imprint they left can never be removed.
Thus, in 4000 Miles, when young Leo takes a cross-country journey to visit his grandmother in New York City, he perhaps superficially chooses her as an endpoint, but there is that ingredient of gratitude that he feels for her. Yes, he acts initially in the play as if he is apathetic and ostensibly entitled to her accommodations. It seems more than anything that he planned to treat her as a convenience. And how often the endowment of love is taken for granted by people, unaware of the debt they owe to those who, quite honestly, had a choice in giving their time to provide a positive charge to a newborn life.
Vera, Leo’s grandmother, is oblivious to feeling used, yet her character is not desperate for attention. She is very consistently developed as a “strong”, i.e. independent woman. There are no exasperated and fearful attempts by her to hear about the world, and especially her beloved city, so far away from her now in her advanced age. Her choice of taking Leo in is strangely more an act of humanism and compassion than it is a familial obligation. No doubt there would be unnecessary Hell to be paid in the form of family drama if she was obstinate in treating Leo as a stranger and refusing his request for accommodation; yet at her advanced age, why would it matter? Her hospitality proves she isn’t a sour woman and may still be a communist at heart who feels an ethical mandate to share.
What is so vexing in the story is the natural interactions between the two. The dynamic albeit is an interesting one, because Vera can be allowed to be more or less a friendly stranger to her grandson. Likewise, Leo can be more earnest with his feelings because he can drop basic courtesy. He is within the confines of privacy. And perhaps it is because of this privileged and precious ground which is extraordinarily rare to stand on given how dominant public interaction in society is, that Leo, more than anything, comes to appreciate his grandmother in the play, and inches ever closer to proving to the audience the preciousness of having a family life.
The cadence between the two in the play is the source of the vexation. There is inquisition and folly as the two learn more about their lives, like reacquainted old friends. And it is this treatment of the relationship as a quasi-friendship or odd coupling which becomes the weakest link in the entire performance. The development of their relationship appears too prematurely comfortable for the two to be so distant from each other. There is no unease on the part of Leo in treating his grandmother’s abode like his own.
This could be a part of his personality, to be sure, but his generally flatly-written copacetic dialogue does not provide enough sharp edges to reveal the deep scar tissue he acquired during his four-thousand-mile journey. We see no evidence of Leo being preoccupied with the tragedy of his friend. And the one terrific outburst of rage that we know is linked to this deep unsettlement unfortunately comes out of left field. Typically, that would show he is extremely well at hiding his emotions. Yet is it plausible that he can bury such trauma so deep? If this was a successful tactic, why did he finally find reason to accept the warmth of a family member who became a loved one as a catharsis for that trauma? This is to say, Vera validated Leo’s very being, demonstrating the indispensability of the family unit in more or less “coping” with the slings and arrows of misfortune, and in making the highs higher and, in this context, the lows shallower.
The missteps of the pseudo-estrangement between Leo and Vera, which lessen as the two become better dancing partners, needs to be better explored, with more overt parallels in their daily strengthening of personal human bonds. The anecdotes of Vera’s life are wrought with imagination and the dialogue suffers from no stuttering or tedium, but more serious character study is necessary for the two. The raw emotional potential underneath both could be more clearly insinuated. Just as embarrassment is provoked by stepping on toes, so too can Vera’s similar sadness in losing her life partner be an interesting revelation. It could reveal a more interesting, fuller reality that is hinted at but never captured in the drama because of the busy distractions of the dialogue: our grandmothers are people too. And they experience the same universal feelings from struggles inherent in the human condition.


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