Monday, February 18, 2013

Amy Herzog - '4000 Miles'

As mentioned in a prior post, I have assigned myself a reading list for the late winter early spring (maybe it just seems like late winter since we've hardly had any snow!). While I just finished a Zola novel, the official start is now. I have seven books stacked on my desk in order of length (starting with short stuff to build momentum). So my first read is very short, a play. Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles. I decided to add this after reading a conversation with Herzog in BOMB.

I've always found that reading drama is a bit dicey. It's a play; you're supposed to watch it be performed. You're not supposed to read it. Plus, I think I'm also below average at successfully reading drama. But anyway...

My first reaction after finishing the play was: "That's it?"  It seemed like nothing much happened. However, as the play simmered in my mind a bit, I started to realize what Herzog was doing. As it began to sink in, it made me think Herzog is a really good writer! Very adept at avoiding those cheesy melodramatic 'moments of truth' and yet still giving us the payoff such moments usually deliver.

As usual on this blog, I'll avoid saying too much about the plot since I hate to be a spoiler. However, what this play seems to be about is closing distances (hence the clever title) in relationships. The two central characters - Leo and his grandmother Vera - live very far apart from each other. He ends up crashing a her place after riding his bike across the country. At the start of the play, Vera has her dead husband's name on the buzzer and trades calls everyday with a neighbor she doesn't like to make sure neither dies and rots for three days before they are found. This is clearly a disconnected woman.

Leo, on the other hand, seems to be breaking up with everyone in his life for one reason or another. In the middles of crossroads in his life, he decides to bike across the country (almost as if running away). In Scene Two, he professes that "if you approach people with love and trust you can count on getting the same things back from them". However, he approaches his grandmother as if he's a pest and seems more than a little wary of her. He uses his approach with absolute strangers but not his own grandmother.

4000 Miles is about closing these distances. It's very well done in that, like I said, it avoids any unrealistic and maudlin moments. On the other hand, I think I might have enjoyed to see and feel the transition a bit more in the characters. The scenes in the play are windows into the unexpectedly long visit that Leo has with Vera. You can see the progress the characters are making with each other and the way connection is forged. However, for me, it would have felt better to see and feel the relationship build as opposed to the scene-by-scene 'progress reports'. Now I imagine that much of that feeling is up to the actors to convey in their performances, which means Herzog gives her cast a lot of room to drive the emotional core of her story.

I enjoyed reading 4000 Miles and will probably re-read it at some point to deepen my grasp of what Herzog is dealing with. I'd would love to see it performed live or to see another play by Herzog (assuming this one has finished its run). Best of all, I feel as though I encountered something very subtle and natural in her approach to characterization and plot movement that feels very special and unique. Enjoyable to see such control and confidence and certainly something to learn from.

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