A Heartfelt Journey Toward Manhood in HTC’s “4000 Miles”

Diana Marbury as Vera and Ben Schnickel as Leo in HTC's production of "4000 Miles" | tom kochie photo for HTC
Diana Marbury as Vera and Ben Schnickel as Leo in HTC’s production of “4000 Miles” | tom kochie photo for HTC

I don’t usually leave a theatrical performance feeling full and satisfied — it’s far more likely that I’ll be unsettled (in a good way), excited or perturbed about something I’ve witnessed. But after leaving Hampton Theatre Company’s performance of Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles” Friday evening, I felt like I’d gone home, confronted my own family drama, and learned something good and soothing about human nature. And all I’d done was spend nearly two hours in a darkened theater.

This play, about a young man named Leo who embarks on a cross-country bicycle trip to meet up with his girlfriend in New York, only to end up on his grandmother’s doorstep when his girlfriend refuses to see him, is a real gem.

Ben Schnickel as Leo and Diana Marbury as Vera in HTC's production of "4000 Miles"  |  tom kochie photo for HTC
Ben Schnickel as Leo and Diana Marbury as Vera in HTC’s production of “4000 Miles” | tom kochie photo for HTC

The writing is understated, but encompassing of volumes about human nature, and this tight, four-person cast, under the able direction of HTC President Sarah Hunnewell, does a fine job of conveying the breadth of a traumatic cross-country voyage, of death and of coming-of-age, without ever leaving the confines of the set of a Greenwich Village apartment.

The time is September of 2007, a strangely optimistic moment in American history just before the economic meltdown that changed the trajectory of the next decade for many young people Leo’s age.

Ms. Herzog knows her subject matter — she had embarked on a cross-country bicycle trip for Habitat for Humanity shortly after graduating from Yale in 2000, and then lived with her grandmother in Greenwich Village for six months while making a go of an acting career.

But what stuck me about this play is this female playwright’s depth of insight into the character of a young man trying to understand his place in a world where traditional definitions of manhood are becoming a rarity, and there is little guidance for how to be a man in a world. Leo, the only male character in this play, finds that strength in a quite unlikely place.

Actor Ben Schnickel as Leo brings a lot to this coming-of-age story, arriving on his grandmother’s doorstep as a sweaty, half-snickering, occasionally conflicted freeloader, who spends his early days rock-climbing in a nearby gym, digging in a community garden, taking home a loose woman, and smoking pot with his grandmother, but then finds his way to his true feelings about the death and deception he’s witnessed among his friends and family.

Diana Marbury, who has had quite a run lately of choice grandmotherly roles at HTC in last winter’s “Dead Accounts” and last spring’s “Lost in Yonkers,” has a ball with her role as grandma Vera, a widowed and forgetful communist who had let her dead husband do much of the political talk. But she is sharp about human nature and she is a blessing to her step-grandson.

Amanda Griemsmann, who’s had a run of recent good and varied roles on the HTC stage, plays Leo’s sullen outdoorsy girlfriend Bec, unimpressed by Vera’s decades-old conceptions of feminism, who sees through all of Leo’s childish insecurities but loves him anyway. She turns in a fine performance.

Samantha Herrera as Amanda and Ben Schnickel as Leo in HTC's production of "4000 Miles"  |  tom kochie photo for HTC
Samantha Herrera as Amanda and Ben Schnickel as Leo in HTC’s production of “4000 Miles” | tom kochie photo for HTC

Samantha Herrara, the aforementioned loose woman, Amanda, whom Leo takes home, only appears on stage for a few brief minutes, but in those minutes she serves as a shorthand for a great big city filled with superficial dreams and hearts dulled by alcohol and ambition.

She takes the cake home with her….leaving Leo, a heart-naked mountain man in a bright red flannel shirt, alone with his grandma in a rare safe quarter of a city without a heart.

A well-appointed set is a must for any Hampton Theatre Company production. The precise but apparently random placement of tchotchkes throughout the living room set, and the doorway at the back of the stage that leads to the guest bedroom where Vera waited on her husband’s deathbed and still sleeps in a single bed, work to create a sense of home, thanks to set decor and design by Diana and Sean Marbury. 

The coordination of yellow stage light with the turning on of lamps on stage was also an understated but very nice touch.

Tasty fingerstyle guitar interludes between the set changes did a wonderful job of setting the mood — you could almost hear the chatter and clatter of dishes accompanying a live performance in the increasingly rare confines of a Greenwich Village folk club.

There is no intermission in this play, but unless you are especially infirm, you will not miss it. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that an hour and forty-five minutes of cross-generational conversation in the confines of a New York City apartment does not drag one bit.

“4000 Miles” runs at the Quogue Community Hall through Jan. 29, with shows on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.. There will also be an additional matinee performance on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 2:30 p.m. prior to the regular 8 p.m. evening performance. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors over 65, $15 for young adults under 35 and $10 for students under 21 years of age. 

For more information or to reserve tickets, visit www.hamptontheatre.org, or call OvationTix at 1.866.811-4111.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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