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'4000 Miles' Explores Distance Between Generations

PlayMakers Repertory Company is poised to present a quirky, yet powerful production of “4000 Miles” running April 1 through April 19.

4000 Miles tells the story of a 21-year-old Leo, who bikes 4,000 miles from the West Coast to New York where he ends up at his 91-year-old grandmother Vera’s apartment.

“It is very quirky," said Schuyler Mastain, who plays Leo. "The central relationship is between a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old grandson and he’s crashing on her couch."

Mastain said at one point in the play his character brings home a girl on a date and takes her to the guest bedroom. Inevitably, his grandmother walks in on their romantic moment.

“There’s laughter and there are awkward funny moments, but I think at the end of the day it paints a very poignant picture about coming to terms with death and still being able to learn,” he said.

Mastain said open-mindedness and lifelong learning are also big themes in the play.

“Even at 91 years old (Vera) is still learning and she’s still open to new experiences," he said. "And it’s also about (Leo) not feeling like he knows everything and still being open to the world.”

Dee Maaske, a West Coast-based guest artist who plays Vera, said the play focuses on physical, emotional and generational distances.

“I think the distance has to do with not only physical distance but emotional distance. It brings two rather unlikely people together,” she said.

“I like it because it crosses generational lines – The elderly impose [generational lines] on themselves to the young, and the young impose [generational lines] on themselves to the old. And this play says you don’t have to do that.”

Maaske said she and director Desdemona Chiang, a guest artist also based out of the West Coast, have been friends for some time and were excited to get the chance to work together on this play.

“I really enjoy working with Desdemona,” Maaske said. “It’s wonderful to work with someone who understands both ages — she works with young people very well and she works with someone my age very well.”

Chiang said she relates to the play because she too has a 91-year-old grandmother.

“It’s not personal, but I relate to it,” she said. “The elderly are often smarter and wiser and feistier than we think.”

After working with PRC on multiple occasions before, Chiang said the largest difficulty she faced in 4000 Miles is theater size.

“One of the biggest challenges is this play is essentially a two-person play and is supposed to be performed in a smaller theater, so how do we keep that intimate feeling about it in the Paul Green?” she said.

Maaske said although size presents an obstacle, it is one they can overcome. 

“It’s difficult sometimes to take a very intimate play and place it in a very large venue,” she said. “But it has been done before. It can be done, you just have to trust that audiences are going to be involved when they come into the theater.”

Mastain said he thinks college students will especially appreciate 4000 Miles and urged them to come to the show.

“This is a great show for the college student body,” he said. “This is one that they could really wrap their heads around and enjoy, and one that I would feel honored to know that a vast majority of the college student body came and saw.”

Mastain said one of his greatest takeaways from the production was the reminder that life is a journey.

“Even though a person might be reaching the end of their life, it’s not over until it’s over. It’s about the journey and it’s about loving the ones you’re with,” he said.

Chiang said she hopes audience members think of and appreciate their family after watching the play.

“It’s about not taking your grandparents or your parents for granted,” she said. “They’re not going to be around forever – I want to see everyone go out into the lobby after the play and call their grandparents.”

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