The 2016 theater season is off to a great start — but you'll have to hurry if you want to see 4000 Miles, which closes this weekend. Keep reading for a capsule review of the Miners Alley production, as well as another worthy show, Fade.
4000 Miles. The plot of Amy Herzog’s don't-miss 4000 Miles concerns the relationship between a somewhat lost 21-year-old and his 91-year-old grandmother. Leo arrives at Vera’s apartment in the wee hours of the morning, disheveled from a cross-country bike ride. One of the first things she says to him is, “You smell” — though she can’t actually say anything coherent until she’s put her teeth in. Leo is visibly distressed, and we eventually learn that a close friend of his died on that bike ride, a tragedy that frayed his relationship with his girlfriend, Bec, to the breaking point.
Vera is a fascinating character, a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist, though now far more preoccupied with the constant indignities of advanced age than politics: difficulty getting around, loss of sensory acuity, and the way the words she needs keep eluding her, surely one of the hardest trials for a brilliant intellectual activist. She exchanges nightly phone calls with an elderly neighbor she professes to despise, each confirming that the other remains functional and alive. Deborah Persoff is brilliant in the role. And in the hands of Curtiss Johns, Leo is rounded and complex, too. Like Vera, Leo is somewhat out of his element. He hasn't figured out what to do with his life yet, though he’s also political — a greenie who refuses to carry a cell phone but shows little awareness of wider environmental issues.
In their separate ways, both are dealing with mortality — Leo with the shock of his friend’s death, Vera with the many deaths of friends and associates, as well as her own failing body. 4000 Miles reaches across boundaries political, familial and cultural, as well as the profound boundary separating age from youth, with warmth and intelligence. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through March 6, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com. Read the full review of 4000 Miles here.
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Fade. This is a ninety-minute-long, two-person play based on playwright Tanya Saracho’s experiences as what she has termed a “token diversity hire” in Hollywood. Protagonist Lucia has been brought in to lend credibility to Latino characters. She finds herself sitting in on meetings where not much is required of her since she hasn’t yet been assigned an actual script, struggling to find words to explain her ideas and being undervalued by her boss. Her sole friend in Los Angeles is Abel, the janitor who comes regularly to clean her office. The two have some essential things in common, but there’s even more separating them. She was born in Mexico but educated in the United States, and her family is clearly affluent. Abel’s a Chicano, born and raised in an L.A. neighborhood rougher than anything Lucia’s ever experienced. He observes her struggles and delusions with resigned amusement.
The early dialogue focuses almost exclusively on issues of race and class: Saracho seems to be downloading all of her own observations about Hollywood rather than creating living, breathing characters. But both Lucia and Abel become more human as things progress and she discovers the limitations of her own understanding. Here Abel can help her, sharing his life experiences and providing ideas for scenes and dialogue. Pretty soon, Lucia’s boss finds her writing more alive. There are interesting possibilities here. Is there going to be a romance between Lucia and Abel? The script glances at the possibility, then veers away. As Lucia gains respect in the world she previously despised, traces of her earlier arrogance reappear, and that’s interesting, too, but like the nascent love affair, it doesn’t get developed. Then there’s the entire issue of who stories belong to: those who live them or those who tell them.
Fade doesn’t go deeply into any of this, but the play does evoke fruitful thoughts about the lives unfolding in tandem with our own, the mysteries they hold — of culture, class, race, gender — and the miraculous moments when the veil lifts and we recognize each other. Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company through March 13, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Read the full review of Fade here.