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The Daily Tar Heel

PRC's "4000 Miles" offsets serious themes with clever comedy

PlayMakers Repertory Company production of 4000 Miles.  (Photo by Jon Gardiner)
Buy Photos PlayMakers Repertory Company production of 4000 Miles. (Photo by Jon Gardiner)

PlayMaker's "4000 Miles"

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

4 1/2 Stars

PRC's “4000 Miles” kept the audience laughing steadily at the play’s clever quirkiness while simultaneously taking to heart somber messages for both young and old in an incredibly realistic, genuine and down to earth performance.

The play, which runs through April 19, revolves around 21-year-old Leo (Schuyler Scott Mastain) and his grandmother, 91-year-old Vera (Dee Maaske). After biking across the country from Seattle, Leo ends up at Vera’s Manhattan apartment unexpectedly in the wee hours of the night. While Leo first insists that he will not be staying, Vera orders that he at least stay the night, get a good breakfast in the morning and shower before climbing into the guest bed. Before either of them realizes it, Leo has settled in and stayed for some time, and the pair grows closer as they learn more about one another.

While the show touches on serious tones of death, growing old, heartbreak and generational gaps, its smart dialogue creates constant outlets for comedic relief — much of which was supplied by Grandma Vera. 

Despite being 91, Vera was, for the most part, sharp as a tack, and her dry, honest (oftentimes brutally so) comments never failed to elicit laughter from the crowd. Vera had the ability to transition on a dime from discussing a heart-wrenching memory from her past to making a wry comment about it and creating an uproar of hearty chuckles. This approach allowed for serious issues to be addressed while keeping the material from being overly heavy, and Maaske's brilliant line delivery and knowing sideways glances made it possible.

Together, Leo and Vera made an incomparable team. Mastain and Maaske filled the theater with their characters’ personalities, which at times overlapped and at other times were completely at odds. Their authenticity when working with one another onstage was delightfully engrossing, and that truly allowed the audience to study and appreciate the relationship between the 21-year-old and the 91-year-old.

One of the most poignant moments in the play was when Leo and Vera were sitting up late one night, and he finally shared with her the story of how his close friend died before his eyes on their cross-country biking trip. As Leo told the painful story, audible gasps emerged from the audience — but when he finished, Vera responded with, “I didn’t have my hearing aid in,” resulting in a hearty wave of laughter from the crowd and the most perfect form of cathartic relief for the scene.

The personalities of the characters were only matched by the beautiful and elaborate set design. The entire show took place in Vera’s apartment, which had warm, rich oriental rugs, tons of books and knick-knacks, an old weathered globe and countless pictures ornamenting the walls and free surfaces. The apartment suggested that Vera had lived a long life filled with memories and lessons that she continued to carry with her. The same quality was mirrored in Leo, but at a lessened level due to his younger age. The cozy detailed apartment set the tone of the play, and of Leo and Vera’s relationship, perfectly.

Overall, “4000 Miles” offered a wonderfully witty and beautifully thoughtful play that two extraordinary actors brought to life in a unique and dynamic performance.

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