Amy Herzog's Obie Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated, talk-of-New York 4000 Miles is a play about death, cross-country cycling and how you move on from either. At 3am, unannounced, Leo (Stephen Multari) arrives at the Big Apple apartment of his grandmother, Vera (Diana Mclean), having cycled from the west coast. She chides him that his mother has been worried sick but lets him lie low a little longer in her spare room. It's clear he's fleeing trouble both at home and on the road, and she'll get the details out of him in due course. You have to unload before you can go back.
Till then, 4000 Miles is an odd-couple comedy that at every turn is fresh, vibrant, wonderfully observed and captivating. Twenty-year-old Leo and 91-year-old Vera are both progressives of their age — she a savvy, dyed-in-the-wool Communist whose generation liberated women on paper but not wholly in practice and he a sustainability-touting nomad who both exalts Marx and will drop $50 to visit a specialist gym. They clash, but they bond even more. And then when you think their tete-a-tete can't possibly reach higher heights, they smoke a doobie together.
Sydney's big theatre companies don't really take on new international writing. (Belvoir's focus is new Australian writing and reimagined classics. Griffin, this year at least, is all Australian. The Sydney Theatre Company considers new international writing but is not staging any itself in 2013.) This local dedication is not without fair reason, but the downside is that audiences can miss out on seeing some extraordinary stories from overseas produced to a professional level. Those audiences should be flocking to this indie production, which — under the auspices of ATYP and the direction of Anthony Skuse (2012 winner of the Sydney Theatre Award for Best Direction of an Independent Production for Punk Rock) — was always set to be a knockout.
It's a beautiful script, gracefully done. Skuse has a warm, playful but unpretentious touch that's particularly visible in scenes such as Leo's imperfectly connected Skype chat with his sister, Lily (Aileen Huynh). This crosses over into outright bravery for the unusually staged climactic scene, and the risk pays off. 4000 Mileshas an almost episodic rather than traditionally theatrical structure (TV fans, hi), and the pacing of it is superb.
There are great performances across the board, including in smaller roles filled by Huynh and Eloise Snape (both of whom also charmingly, organically double as stage managers). Huynh, in particular, has one scene in which she's licensed to hilariously chew up the scenery, and it's a total joy. (Outside of 4000 Miles, she seems to channel a similar energy into her YouTube videos.)
4000 Miles is a rarity, a play in which light and dark are jammed in close to each other and yet achieve a precious sense of symbiosis. A treat.