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On Theater: The first 3,999 miles are the best

October 28, 2013|By Tom Titus
  • Jenny O'Hara and Matt Caplan in South Coast Repertory's 2013 production of "4000 Miles" by Amy Herzog.
Jenny O'Hara and Matt Caplan in South Coast Repertory's… (Debora Robinson…)

Amy Herzog's captivating character study, "4000 Miles," now on stage at South Coast Repertory, engages its audience early on and maintains that emotional attachment almost to the very end. It's as if the playwright simply had nothing else to say and just stopped writing.

But until that less-than-satisfying conclusion, Herzog's play is a rich and rewarding experience. Director David Emmes has elicited some indelible performances from his four actors, particularly the two central figures — a young man and his nonagenarian grandmother, thrust together for a few weeks in the old lady's spacious Greenwich Village apartment.

These characters, worlds apart in age and viewpoint, are beautifully written and superbly interpreted by Matt Caplan and Jenny O'Hara. Young adventurer Leo (Caplan) has just finished crossing the country on his bicycle and elects to crash temporarily in Vera's (O'Hara) spare bedroom, creating a new form of odd-couple bonding.

During this visit, Leo interacts with an old girlfriend on her way out (Rebecca Mozo) and a new one on her way in (Klarissa Mesee). But the crux of this dramatic comedy is the relationship between the young, athletic Leo and the aging, absent-minded Vera and how they affect each other's life.

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O'Hara enriches her portrayal with age-defining mannerisms, all well chosen and highly believable. Age has dulled her 91-year-old character's memory, and she frequently employs the term "whaddayacallit" to describe something for which she's mentally lost the word. Her performance is wonderfully nuanced, a convincing blend of warmth and scrappiness.

As the grandson, who has lost his best friend on the bike trip in a horrific accident and now must face life without his lady love, Caplan delivers a performance layered with degrees of emotional intensity. We view the play chiefly through his eyes and feel his several degrees of pain and loss as he attempts to forge a new path.

Mozo's brief appearance to sever the relationship and her late return to salve the wounds constitute a heartwarming depiction by this frequent SCR performer. Mesee, on the other hand, delves heavily into comic relief as a chirpy, kooky Chinese girl brought back to the apartment by Leo for an intended tryst.

That apartment, incidentally, is quite huge, judging by the extra-large living room and other, unseen quarters. Scenic designer Ralph Funicello has fashioned a richly detailed setting that appears to have been around as long as its owner.

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