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‘4000 Miles’ a theatrical journey worth taking

Josh Salt Mary Ann Thebus star “4000 Miles” Northlight Theatre. | PHOTO BY MICHAEL BROSILOW

Josh Salt and Mary Ann Thebus star in “4000 Miles” at Northlight Theatre. | PHOTO BY MICHAEL BROSILOW

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‘4000 MILES’

Highly recommended

When: Through Oct. 20

Where: Northlight Theatre,
9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie

Tickets : $25-$75

Info: (847) 673-6300;

Run time: 1 hour and 40 minutes,
with no intermission

Updated: October 28, 2013 6:51AM

Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles,” now in the loveliest of productions at Northlight Theatre, is a beautifully observed play about an elderly woman who is still engaged, spirited, and fiercely trying hard to hold on to life, and her encounter with her early twentysomething grandson, a neo-hippie struggling to make sense of life, love, work and mortality.

Like Herzog’s earlier drama, “After the Revolution,” the play looks at a family in which political passions seem to have skipped a generation. But it is all much more subtle (if at times a bit contrived) than that.

Vera Joseph (Mary Ann Thebus, in an altogether glorious portrayal that is spot-on in terms of its emotional and physical truth), is an independent-minded octogenarian living alone in the same roomy, rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment she has occupied for 40 years. She has had a colorful life, been actively involved in left-wing politics, and had a good marriage with the second of two husbands, a Marxist intellectual who died a decade ago. But she now suffers from that low-grade panic that comes with aging and hearing loss, and though she’d never admit it, she is a bit lonely.

Vera hasn’t seen much of her grandson, Leo (a sensitive, understated performance by Josh Salt), in recent years as he and his sister, adopted from China, live in St. Paul, Minn. But when he shows up at her door one night — at the end of a 4,000-mile bicycle trip from Seattle that was idyllic until it suddenly turned tragic midway through — she takes him in, especially since his girlfriend, Bec (the always vivid Caroline Neff), a student at NYU, has not been welcoming.

The relationship between Vera and Leo is prickly at first. Both are loners to some extent, and both are set in their ways. But Vera’s casually unabashed frankness (in a particularly hilarious moment she appears in a sheer blouse that reveals her bra) captivates Leo, who is in a state of inner turmoil with no life plan, too much idealism and the shock of having seen his best friend die during the bike trip.

Herzog also has devised a wonderfully comic scene in which Leo brings “home” a girl he has just met. Amanda (stunning Emjoy Gavino, who lights up the stage with her smart, sexy performance), is wealthy, ambitious and playfully aggressive — his total opposite (and perhaps too neat an antidote to his strange relationship with his sister).

In this intimate but universal story — one that belongs, above all, to Thebus — director Kimberly Senior makes everything flow easily but unpredictably. She and her cast find the truth in the casual mess of a cereal bowl, the visible relief of a hug.


Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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