Whether it’s Samuel Beckett or Oscar Wilde, the 4,000-pound elephant in the room that gives any stage narrative its essential torque is always death. Its implicit presence powers dramatic language, creating a sense that what a character says matters.
However, when a play strives to make that elephant its literal subject, as does 4000 Miles, Amy Herzog’s sentimental, 2011 coming-of-age drama, the results can all too easily slide into warm-and-fuzzy sententiousness.
The play is making its L.A. premiere at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, following a different production that went up at Orange County's South Coast Rep last year. Its centerpieces are 21-year-old eco-hippie/stoner Leo (Christian Prentice) and his still spritely and outspoken 91-year-old Marxist grandmother Vera (Mimi Cozzens). Leo, who has just begun his life journey, turns up at the Greenwich Village apartment of Vera, who is at the end of her own, following Leo’s paralyzing loss of a bosom buddy on a cross-country bicycle trip.
Prentice and Cozzens are fine in the broader strokes of their characters’ May-December clashes, but director Christian Lebano’s under-imagined staging (on John Vertrees’ generically detailed set) can’t locate Herzog’s intended affective force.
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Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; through November 8. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.
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