Hands across the generation gap

"4000 Miles," produced by the Philadelphia Theatre Company, stars (from left) Beth Dixon, David Raphaely, and Leigha Kato.
"4000 Miles," produced by the Philadelphia Theatre Company, stars (from left) Beth Dixon, David Raphaely, and Leigha Kato. (PAOLA NOGUERAS)
Posted: October 19, 2013

Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles is a charming, naturalistic family drama. It has no agenda, no big ideas, just an excellent cast portraying characters who feel like family - which is saying quite a lot. It is exactly the kind of play that gets nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for drama (as it did this year), and exactly the kind of play the Philadelphia Theatre Company favors. Mary B. Robinson directs with a light, affectionate touch.

In the middle of the night, Leo (the excellent Davy Raphaely, looking like a young Mark Ruffalo) shows up with his bicycle at his grandmother's New York apartment, having pedaled across the country. Vera (Beth Dixon, who does feisty decrepit elegantly) is startled, of course, but this is an old lady who knows how to go with the flow. Their evolving relationship over the course of three weeks, punctuated by the occasional girlfriend (Shannon Marie Sullivan) and the occasional pickup (Leigha Kato doing a hilarious turn as a rich, drunk Chinese freak), is the play.

The most interesting thing about it is that it pretty much ignores, or trashes, the generation in between Leo and Vera. The old Communist and the young hippie have little time for the bourgeois middle ground and middle generation. If the play did more than use politics as a source of one-liners, it would be more substantial. So when Leo, reading his grandfather's book about Cuba, says, "It must have been cool to be so uncynical," we wish we could hear or see more.

We learn about dead friends and angry mothers and troubled sisters; Vera, despite losing her hearing and her vocabulary, is far more colorful and articulate than any of the young people. She regales her grandson (and us) with great stories of her first husband's infidelities, and is far more sexually sophisticated than Leo; she finds much of his talk to be "new-age baloney."

There are outstanding tiny moments: Leo's marveling at the Yellow Pages, his calling his grandmother "Dude" when he is particularly annoyed, and his lovely, choked-up attempt to read his ex-girlfriend a poem that starts, "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field." It is on that field that Leo and Vera manage to meet. The play's best moment is a shared laugh - the point, surely, of it all.

4000 Miles

Presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company at Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard Streets, through Nov. 10. Tickets $46-$59. Information: 215-985-0420.

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