Santa Paula Theatre Center continues an interesting season of strong dramas with Amy Herzog's Pulitzer-Prize-nominated comedy, 4000 Miles. Set in the East Village New York City apartment of a 91-year-old partisan widow, Vera, the play opens as her 21-year-old grandson, Leo, appears at three in the morning at the end of a tragic 4000 mile cross-country bike ride.
It is the crashing together of two very different worlds, though in this production it is more of a nudge than a crash. Leo and Vera quickly learn that they both have some problems with Leo's mother in common and thus begins the journey to a new friendship and greater understanding, with plenty of friction along the way.
The play offers a lot for younger audiences; viewers in their teens and twenties
were definitely laughing the longest and most frequently at the premier.
One of the strengths of this production is its casting as all four members of the cast are well matched to their roles.
To start with we get Parker Harris, a Rubicon Theatre vet in his first Santa Paula production, playing Leo. Long, lean, athletic-looking and handsome, yet capable of infusing the self-doubt and lack of confidence necessary to Leo's young angst.
One thing Harris gets right is that curious blend of complete self-sufficiency and self-confidence one gains from being in the outdoors living day-to-day combined with a certain naive idealism while lacking self-confidence when encountering civilization. It is a strange mix of maturity and immaturity, of wisdom with lack of smarts, of perfect confidence and lack of self-confidence in the face of basic social and daily realities.
One of those social realities is his girl-friend, Bec, played by Erin Hollander, who "happens" to be living in New York City. But we find Leo at his grandmothers; so what is going on here for Leo? We start to learn the truth, or truths, slowly, then rather quickly once Bec shows up.
Marilyn Lazik and Parker Harris star in the Pulitzer Prize nominated comic /drama 4000 Miles, at the Santa Paula Theater Center.
The whole play revolves around Leo and Vera, as they carry almost every scene. Mariyn Lazik's Vera is equal to the task. Lazik gets that someone like Vera, living in the heart of New York city all their life, sometimes get the pace of New York in their bones which gives them a certain sharpness and speed most would not associate with a 91-year old. Lazik gets the fire that still burns in Vera.
OK, so it burns in her bones not her flesh and her mind is starting to gap, but Vera has not given up on anything yet. In fact, at several points in the script this is precisely her message to the youngsters: don't give up, you've got a long, exciting life ahead of you, so go get on with it.
Lazik gets in some wonderful acting licks. She expresses more while hanging up or slamming down the phone than a lot of lessor actors do with their lines.
Amanda and Leo's adopted sister, Lily, are intelligently played by Susan Lucas who has worked with Flying H Theatre and has recently moved to Los Angeles to follow acting and musical demons. Lucas has been working on her chops and it shows.
Amanda is a Chinese-American Parsons student with considerably more wealth and ambition than talent who Leo brings back to Vera's apartment drunk one night. It is essentially a one-scene part. But what a scene. Lucas bursts in with energy and libido, kicking things into a new gear, giving the play the comic force it needs.
Parker Harris and Susan Lucas try to keep things quiet in the Pulitzer Prize nominated comic /drama 4000 Miles, at the Santa Paula Theater Center.
Amanda sees Leo as some sort of exotic bird trapped in a New York concrete cage. Like a big cat, she is going to play with him awhile, luring him in, pushing him away, before she devours him. Lucas has carefully caught the subtle balance between Amanda's 19-year-old youth and insecurities, her self-entitled wealth, a completely urbanized confidence, and her precocious innate comfort with her body and sensuality. Lucas's Amanda is played with a full-throttle yet coy sexuality and a verve that the rest of the play sorely needs. The result is a wonderful scene that brings down the house.
Herzog's script, in spite of almost winning a Pulitzer, leaves an incredible wealth of dramatic possibilities on the table in nearly every scene and is not without its holes and difficulties. Herzog often goes for a facile resolution of each scene instead of digging into the depth of her subtexts. This keeps the play entertaining and easy to watch, but it leaves the actors and director with some fairly tricky problems. Because of this it is a great "teaching" play: every serious student of theatre, acting, or directing in the 805 should see this production at least twice. The play does not reveal its lessons on the page; they come out when attempted by a live company.
In her final scene, Herzog reveals that this is intended to be a play about things not said as well as what is said. To pull that off, each actor, and the director, have to be exceptionally clear about their characters' motivations throughout the play and realize that Herzog hasn't necessarily given you all you need within the lines.
Ultimately, Herzog's play is all about subtext, what is not said is often more important than what is said. This lets us enjoy its humor and situations as we experience them while not being distracted from its deeper, much more serious emotional underpinnings.
In the end everything works out OK, and like Vera advises, everyone goes and gets on with it.
This year, the Santa Paula Theatre Center and the Elite Theatre of Oxnard are offering by far the most exciting and challenging season offerings amongst the six theaters of the Four Star Theatre Alliance. Challenging to the actors and directors that is: highly enjoyable for audiences of good dramatic theatre. Both theaters are offering great contemporary playwrights, important plays well-worth seeing, and avoiding the over-exposed safe-bets that typically fill the schedules of smaller regional theaters.
At the Santa Paula Theatre Center we had an ambitious staging of Sharr White's The Other Place kicking off the season. SPTC invited Taylor Kasch, founding director of the Flying H theater to come in and direct, bringing a crew of excellent, experienced actors in and giving us some exciting theatre. To follow up they're currently doing Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles, a little gem of a piece, then one of Agatha Christie's best, followed by a new play from Conor McPherson, one of the great story-tellers of our time, finally concluding with Tim Firth's hilarious Calendar Girls, which was made into a very funny film that did not get wide distribution outside the UK. That's a great season of solid dramatic theatre that deserves to be supported and seen.
4000 Miles by Amy Herzog
at the Santa Paula Theatre Center in downtown Santa Paula
starring Marilyn Lazik, Parker Harris, Erin Hollander, and Susan Lucas
directed by Larry Swerdlove, produced by Leslie Nichols with set design by Mike Carnahan
for reservations and show information call 805.525.4645
for more information visit santapaulatheatercenter.org