Carroll carries Herzog‘s ‘4000 Miles’ at GSC
GLOUCESTER — In baseball, when a pitch is in a batter’s “wheelhouse,” you expect him to hit it out.
In acting, when a play is in the actor’s wheelhouse, you expect he or she will hit it out, too.
Nancy E. Carroll does just that as an aging widow in New York City who gets an unexpected visitor in Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles” at the Gloucester Stage Company through Aug. 17.
“4000 Miles” is a vehicle for Carroll in the character of Vera Joseph — based on Herzog’s actual grandmother — a kindly sort with an unapologetic passion for leftist politics who in her twilight days is doing her best to repair a somewhat fractured family.
No one can deliver a zinger like Carroll — see other recent productions such as her character in “Other Desert Cities” at Speakeasy Stage Company last year –but she is also true in her attention to detail for a role: in this case, the way an old woman walks, talks, hears or doesn’t hear.
“4000 Miles” garnered Herzog an Obie Award and was named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, but even in a well-done production such as this one it doesn’t seem to have the kind of heft that would bag those awards.
It is the middle of a night in 2007 when Leo, Vera’s 21-year-old grandson, unexpectedly arrives, bike in tow, a sweaty mess, in a sense hiding out from friends and family after a cross country bike trip turned tragic.
Rockport native Tom Rash is charged with staying with and up to Carroll as Leo, a free-bird, bearded type. Rash has a kind of “aw-shucks” roguish charm that fits well with his character.
Leo is a college dropout who’s somewhat adrift and looking for something — or someone — to hook on to.
He has not been at the apartment since the death of his grandfather Joe years ago and when he re-engages with Vera, he finds she is dealing with the ravages of old age as best she can, including loss of teeth, trying to find the right words to say things, etc.
A group of seven octogenarians she socialized with is dwindling, and another member has just died.
“He was a rat. He made a pass at me,” she allows. “But I’m not happy about it.”
There is a sadness and loneliness to her life that she makes no attempt to hide — she has an arrangement with her neighbor, the other surviving octogenarian — to check in each night to make sure the other is still around.
During the course of her reunion with Leo, a somewhat controlled substance will be used, tongues will be loosened and Herzog will get a cheap laugh when Leo spills his guts to Vera, only to find she doesn’t have her hearing aid in.
Some of the better moments in the piece will include Vera’s meandering stories of her two cheating husbands, including Arthur — “He was a cheater and a drunk and I liked him until the day he died” — and Joe, whose Communist leanings were shared by Vera.
She is sympathetic to the faults of both her dead husbands. “Men do things out of stupidity.”
Leo decides he will puts down roots for a while. Leo and Vera will fight, then bond, then fight some more.
There will be an unhappy reunion with Bec (Sarah Muirhead Oakes), the girl he left behind when he embarked on the bike trip and whom he had visited briefly upon arriving in Manhattan and who tells Leo she “needs time to think” and plans a journey far, far away
Samantha Ma has a few nice moments as a potential one-night stand for Leo who’s spooked by the Communist literature she encounters in Vera’s apartment
Through it all, Leo trie to loosen the scar tissue from the bike trip where his best friend was killed on a Kansas highway.
Skilled director Eric C. Engel and Carroll give the piece the best chance it has to succeed;
“4000 Miles” is one of those pieces that says what it has to say and doesn’t feel the need try to resolve things or tie things up in a neat bundle.
It’s a modest success but a chance to enjoy again Nancy E. Carroll’s talents as well as some other up-and-coming local talent in a comfortable theater, amidst a beautiful summer backdrop.
The Gloucester Stage Company production of Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles.” Directed by Eric Engel. At the Gorton Theatre, 267 E. Main St., Gloucester, through Aug. 17. http://www.gloucesterstage.com