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4000 Miles takes on generation gaps & bandwagon beliefs

By Joseph Hutt on September 27, 2015

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Joseph Hutt is an Ottawa-based freelance writer and editor with an interest in local literary and theater culture. He is the Associate Editor for the Ottawa Arts Review, and has just been hired as the Managing Editor of The Leveller.

4000 Miles, presented by Kanata Theatre, and running until September 26th, is a play that struggles to decide whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama.

Written by Amy Herzog, this play is about the generational gaps and personal struggles of Vera, a progressive/leftist octogenarian, and Leo, her 20 year-old new-age/leftist/hippie amalgam of a grandson. Generous in the ways that only a grandmother can be, Vera takes Leo in as he struggles with the emotional implications of finishing his trans-American bike tour.

The arrangement seems sweet and ripe for all kinds of banter and foolish capers, but a dislike for young man is almost immediately fostered with the dawning of a new day.

While the characters were intended by the play’s author to be anti-heroic and somewhat annoying, Cameron Jones as Leo inspires little empathy for his character.  He rubs his bandwagon holier-than-thou beliefs in the faces of others while revealing himself to be a rather unsavory character. From his air of entitlement, to the blatant disrespect, insolence, and sleaze he shows to the people around him, to the (quasi-)incestuous love he has for his adopted Chinese sister (which, if you’re into this, The Royal Tenenbaums handles a little more artistically), it is strange to see his “male morality” championed after a single good deed, his faults written off as the consequence of “male stupidity”.

However, the quirky and hilarious acting of Charlotte Stewart as the stalwart Vera is one of the prime saving graces of this performance. Whether she spouting a well-timed zinger or indignantly strutting out the door, she consistently knocks the feet out from under this play in a way that none of the other characters seem able to do. I would literally pay to see her reprise this role in another comedy.

Even then, the author’s attempts to “progressive-ize” her character seem construed; her stammering monologues that seem to orbit leftist and communist buzzwords seem to miss the “Marx” as it were, excusing herself for the fact that it was late husband who usually handled all the leftist talk.

Even when Leo adds his own opinions, there is a definite sense of skimming the surface of leftist concerns without understanding their depths or contexts. When the mention of Cuba is a lead in to my own personal uninformed response (“Well, they do have great health care, or so I hear.”), the illusion of their convictions begins to dissolve.

What is even more unfortunate in this situation is that they seem to be trying to address these liberal/leftist concerns in a serious manner, when all they do is make a farce out of them.

There is also an awkward moment when Leo gets really high, where you tense up, knowing Leo’s amorous attachments to family members that aren’t genetically related to him and having just heard an awkward exposition concerning his mounting “male needs” after the death of a close friend You hope against hope that he isn’t about to make a pass at his own grandmother.

(Spoiler: He doesn’t, but it really feels like he was about to.)

On top of the difficult to watch scenes like these, there were a lot of things I wasn’t a fan of with this play, including a mention of date-rape as though it were a joke. My issues with this play seem to stem largely from the script they worked from, though the play was a 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist. While I laughed heartily at Stewart’s antics, the lack of context and informed opinion often hindered my appreciation of this production.

4000 Miles is the first play in the Kanata Theatre season. It is running from Sept. 15-19 and 22-26, 2015.

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