Even if you hadn’t read anything about Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles before showing up to the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, set designer Lauren Helpern’s re-creation of a rent-controlled West Village apartment — down to its outdated flooring and exposed radiators — would give you a pretty good idea of the character who inhabits such a space.
Vera (Mary Louise Wilson) lives alone in the apartment among the doilies and shelves of Communist literature, some of it written by her late husband. Vera has outlived most of her friends, and now her human interaction is mostly limited to a labored nightly phone call with her across-the-hall neighbor. So when her grandson Leo (Gabriel Ebert) arrives on her doorstep at 3 a.m. looking sweaty and strung out, her cloistered little nest gets a welcome if often distressing jolt of youthful energy.
For Leo, Vera’s home is the last stop on a cross-country bike trip, an epic, soul-searching journey that took a tragic turn when his best friend and travel partner was killed in an accident. At first, Leo and his grandmother make for bad roommates, but they come to discover surprising commonalities as they each meander through existence in ways that befit their stages of life: Leo spends much of the play reeling from his friend?s death and searching for purpose, while Vera deals with the ever-increasing signs of her own mortality.
The great majority of Herzog’s probing, understated play consists of Vera and Leo talking in the living room — sometimes with the aid of pot. The play is so confined to these two characters’ bond that even the few spirited appearances by the cast’s two other players — Leo’s emotional ex-girlfriend (Zoë Winters) and his onetime casual hookup (Greta Lee) — almost feel like intrusions. There’s not always enough story to go around, and the play is spread pretty thin over 100 minutes.
And yet, Wilson and Ebert make for a captivating duo. In her portrayal of a plucky grandmother shuffling energetically around her apartment, Wilson reveals flashes of the irreverent young radical Vera once was. While 4000 Miles isn’t the most ambitious or thrilling show to appear Off Broadway, Herzog has created an affecting, smart character study of two people helping each other along on a difficult and all-too-brief journey. B+
(Tickets: lct.org or 212-239-6210)