Personal relationships shine in “4000 Miles”

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Author: Daniel Terner

A cast of four Occidental students treated the crowd in Keck Theater Friday night to an excellent rendition of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog, complete with break-ups, hook-ups and a soundtrack featuring Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

Directed by Occidental’s Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Sarah Kozinn, the play tells the story of Leo, played by Charlie Haakenson (sophomore), a 21-year-old drop-out who surprises his widowed grandmother Vera, played by Savannah Gilmore (senior), at her Manhattan apartment following his completion of a 4,000 mile cross-country bicycle trip.

Leo—still reeling from the loss of his best friend, who died on the trip—returns to a cold reunion with his girlfriend Bec, played by Emily Bragg (senior). He winds up at Vera’s as a last resort at 3 a.m.

During the course of the month spanned in the play, the optimistic, excitable and loving Leo is able to reconnect with his old-fashioned but humorous grandmother in a meaningful way. They take comfort in each other’s presence, having both dealt with the loss of people close to them. Eventually, Vera rekindles Leo’s spark and directs him on a new path in life.

Haakensen, Gilmore and Bragg never failed to entertain during the hour and forty minute performance, but they especially impressed the audience in the break-up scene, which occurs about midway through the play. As Bec explains why she can no longer be with the heartbroken Leo, Vera lightens the intense mood by awkwardly appearing in the back to do laundry.

Another highlight was the hilarious scene in which Leo brings home the intoxicated, unapologetically rich Parsons The New School for Design student Amanda, played by Jean Ahn (sophomore). Amanda is extremely attracted to Leo’s “mountain man” look, however Vera again enters at exactly the wrong time, killing the mood for Leo and his hook-up.

In addition to the play’s progressive themes and subject matter, Kozinn’s use of modern props like Skype calls and glass water pipes made the play easily accessible for the mostly young crowd of 50–60 gathered in Keck.

Still, the most captivating part of the play is the relationship between Leo and Vera.

“There is something about it that is really honest in its storytelling with the script. Very honest,” Haakenson said. “I think the relation between the grandmother and the grandson is so interesting and so cool. It is a beautiful piece.”

Outstanding stage and sound design, along with the production’s unique way of situating the audience in Vera’s apartment, brought Herzog’s script to life.

From the start, the audience was actually made to feel as if they were inside Vera’s East Village apartment.

Upon arriving at Keck Theatre Friday night, a flyer informed theater goers to meet at the North Patio of Keck, where the play began.

As the crowd waited to enter, a weary-looking Haakenson walked through its midst carrying a bicycle and proceeded to climb a spiral staircase. The audience was told to follow him up the stairs and then was led into a classroom that was transformed for the night into Vera’s apartment. Soon, Leo was knocking at the door as the play began.

“I think it really dropped you into the space in a way that you can’t help but engage,” Mary Atyemizian (senior) said. “Which was beautiful because it really made use of that space. I was so intrigued.”

A flat-screen TV served as the window of Vera’s apartment, projecting an image of the New York City skyline that changed, along with the lighting, depending on what time of day the scene was set. Sounds of traffic and other urban noises playing through the sound system, and the songs “Down by the River” by Neil Young and “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan acted as transitions between scenes.

Overall, the aesthetics and the acting, in combination with the raw emotion of the script, contributed to an exceedingly realistic production of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

“I thought they acted it really well. It was definitely real, relatable,” Serena Stuve (senior) said. “I thought all the actors and actresses really fit their roles.”

For those who missed it this past weekend and will be around for Graduation weekend, there will be one more chance to catch a special encore presentation of “4000 Miles” Friday, May 15, at 8:30 p.m.

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