Nathan Barrett, Nicola Cavendish

The Arts Club Theatre opened its 51st season this week with Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles. A finalist in last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this one-act, 95-minute play binds a 91-year old grandma with her 21-year old aloof, hippy grandson as he takes a breather at her Manhattan apartment following a cross-country bike trip.

Billed as a dramatic comedy, 4000 Miles is the perfect vehicle for Nicola Cavendish, returning to the stage after a three-year hiatus. She plays Vera, a feisty, opinionated widow who lives in the comfort of a well-lived-in, 70’s era-furnished apartment with a view, her daily communication consisting of a phone call from a neighbour in the apartment across the hall.

Nicola Cavendish

Next to Nicola’s outstanding portrayal of a posture-challenged old lady, the generation gap is the play’s bold theme. While Nathan Barrett’s Leo hardly resembles a modern dude living in the 21st-century, he does know how to fire up a laptop and jack the neighbour’s wifi. Our Leo is more interested in the outdoors, spending money he doesn’t have on a climbing wall in the city, and daily visits to an urban garden.

While Nicola is obviously given the juiciest lines in Herzog’s play, Leo gets to shine later in the evening, as he opens up to confront his loss. Two minor roles (Ella Simon, as on-again, off-again girlfriend Bec; Agnes Tong in a scene-stealing role of quirky pick-up date Amanda) offer a few pauses between the main event: Leo and Grandma.

Nathan Barrett, Agnes Tong
[Nathan Barrett, Agnes Tong]

One minor problem that I had with this play is the lack of character development of non-speaking roles. Occasional mention is made of another couple of characters who were apparently pivotal in Leo (and Bec’s) lives, however it’s hard to piece the puzzle together or feel much compassion for Leo’s situation until his big reveal (as mentioned, towards the latter part of the play).

Nathan Barrett, Ella Simon
[Nathan Barrett, Ella Simon]

Bec doesn’t seem to add much to the play once she does appear, even though Grandma does recall her being part of Leo’s life. What makes this a great play to watch is the way that Leo and Grandma begin to warm up to one another’s personalities. He becomes the son she never bore; she becomes a great sounding board for his troubles, provided her hearing aid is in place!

Set and Costume Designer Barbra Matis has created a thoughtful, detail-rich set complete with crocheted quilt on the sofa, lots of wooden accent tables, bookshelves filled to the brim, and plants, vases, and knick-knacks of all shapes and sizes. Scene changes are appropriately complemented by 70’s-era music by Bob Dylan and his contemporaries, courtesy of Sound Designer Peter Cerone.

Nicola Cavendish, Nathan Barrett

Funny, heart-warming, and easy to digest, 4000 Miles graces us with growing up, getting older, and tragic loss—all with a generous helping of humour.

Directed by Roy Surette, 4000 Miles continues at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through October 12.

All photos by David Cooper.

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