Written by Neil Shurley
Contributing writer, greenvilleonline.com
You can learn a lot from your grandparents. Some family history. How our bodies and minds change as we get older.
What it means to be an adult.
Twenty-one-year-old Leo (Justin Walker) arrives at his grandmother’s apartment in the middle of the night, not to seek her wisdom or even, really, to see how she’s been doing since he last saw her some 10 years ago. No, Leo is there simply because he doesn’t know where else to go. He’s just finished a cross-country bicycle trip, a journey that began as two couples planning an adventure and ended with Leo all by himself — in more ways than one.
Leo’s 91-year-old grandmother, Vera (Shirley Sarlin), lives by herself in a New York City apartment. She only talks to her neighbor on the telephone, has a computer but doesn’t know what to do with it and finds herself struggling more and more to find the right words to say. She is suspicious of her grandson while also quick to let him into her home. Together, they may just be able to get Leo’s life back on the right path.
This is the setup of “4000 Miles,” which opened Friday night at the Warehouse Theatre. Playwright Amy Herzog based the characters on some of her own family members and earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for the resulting work, a warm and funny play that contains some adult language and a lot of honest feeling.
Shirley Sarlin is wonderful as Vera, a one-time radical activist who’s weathered philandering husbands, disappointing children and the accumulating loss of her teeth, hearing and facility with language. Sarlin brings a lot of depth to the character, letting her suspicions, her aging mind and her humor all seem engagingly natural.
Justin Walker also brings a natural feel to the part of Leo, the self-absorbed man-child. His growth over the course of the evening comes in fits and starts, and Walker deftly handles the range of emotions necessary for the role.
Shannon Leigh Webber provides solid support as Leo’s estranged girlfriend, and Jacquelyn Wyer is hilarious as Amanda, a young woman Leo meets for a single transformative evening.
Director Chip Egan is gifted at working with actors, and his skill shows here, keeping the production centered around the play’s emotional core.
And while the play is packed with underlying themes — what does it mean to be a grown-up, what does it mean to be part of a family, can you really live by approaching the world with love and trust — those themes are only touched on subtly. In the end, you’ll remember the laughter and the feeling of getting to know some interesting people.
It’s a journey well worth taking.
“4000 Miles” continues through April 12 at the Warehouse Theatre in Greenville’s West End. For tickets
and additional information call 864-235-6948 or visit www.warehousetheatre.com.