Billed as a light comedy, director Erik Strauts’ production for the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild of Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles” is just that, although it has an edge.
The action centres on the relationship between nonagenarian Vera Joseph (played by Julie Quick) and her grandson Leo (Jackson Barnard). Vera lives alone in a stylish apartment in Manhattan and early one morning Leo pays her a surprise visit. He has just completed the TransAmerica bike trail which meanders cross the USA for a distance of 4000 miles from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts. His relationship with his girl-fiend Bec (Laura Antoniazzi) is rocky and during the trip his cycling companion is tragically killed. Leo needs comforting and Vera rises to the challenge. During his stay with Vera, Leo confronts Bec and entertains a one-night stand with Amanda (Naomi Gomez). Suffice to say, Leo’s love life is in turmoil.
As explained by Strauts in his program notes, 4000 Miles does not seek to address grand themes and have the audience passively observe from without. Rather, the narrative invites us “inside” Vera and Leo’s quite ordinary world to share what it means to be young, to be old and to bridge the gap between the two.
In his debut lead role, Barnard gives a gentle but confident performance that demonstrates he listens intently to what other characters say around him and then delivers a thoughtful and nuanced response. His scene with Gomez is a highlight, with each bouncing enthusiastically off the other. In her first ever role on stage, Gomez gives an hilarious but poignant performance of a spoiled-rich-Asian girl. Her polished stagecraft belies her relative lack of on-stage experience.. The same chemistry is not as apparent in the scenes with Antoniazzi, who plays Bec confidently and with style, but with less tension and bristle than might be merited, which effectively gives Barnard fewer choices in how to react.
Quick is quite simply superb as Vera. Her every ache and arthritic pain is felt by the audience, and every forgetful moment is heart-felt. Quick’s scenes with Leo prompt us to remember the generational misunderstandings and differences we have all enjoyed and hated. The roof-top garden scenes are a case in point, although the dim lighting doesn’t make it easy for the audience to fully appreciate Quick’s refined use of body language and facial gesture.
Richard Parkhill’s lighting complements well Nicole Puttnins excellent set design, which makes first-rate use of the Little Theatre’s mezzanine. Emma Knight’s original music is pleasing as ‘pure’ music, but is sometimes at odds with the narrative arc of the story. Some of it clearly enhances one’s understanding of what has happened on stage, but at other times it seems to suggest a demeanour that is not really apparent in the action.
Strauts and his capable cast and production team have created a thoughtful and enjoyable glimpse into what it feels like to be ‘miles apart’ from someone else’s lived reality.