4000 Miles

Amy Herzog’s play stays with you for hours after seeing it, like the mood of a potent dream.
[This is archived content and may not display in the originally intended format.]

Presented by Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, this play is so good it stays with you for hours after seeing it, like the mood of a potent dream.

US actor-turned-playwright Amy Herzog has drawn upon her own grandmother as inspiration for the character of nonagenarian Vera, played so realistically by Julia Blake in Red Stitch’s production that you fear for her frailty. But the play’s dignified and unsentimental look at old age is just one of its delights. Another – and there are many – is the sense of ‘north Americaness’ woven into the story, a perspective on growing up in the United States and attachment to country that is incidental to the main narrative but an important part of the world it creates.

Young Leo (Tim Ross) has fallen out with his mother and turns up at his grandmother Vera’s Manhattan apartment after having cycled west to east across the country. Leo and Vera, a former leftwing activist, share a non-patronising, challenging rapport, presented without cliché or sensationalism. Both are intelligent and thoughtful individuals; they provoke each other but never for cheap laughs. The playwright has resisted any shows of cleverness; emotional connection and understanding are the important things here, and the nuanced characterisations on show are astonishing.

As Leo, Ross is superb as the genial, emotionally aware ‘mountain boy’, young and energetic but dealing with adult tragedy and confusion. His physical exuberance, in contrast to Vera’s aging demeanour, is obvious without being heavy-handed. A scene where the two relax on the couch, sharing some unexpected revelations, is one of the funniest and most memorable moments in this critic’s theatre-going life. Secondary characters are also well drawn; Haiha Le in particular is terrific as the drunken American-Chinese fashionista, Amanda; again, she’s given a sensitivity that could have easily been swamped under a larger-than-life portrayal.

Mark Pritchard’s direction is deft and subtle; laughs come second to truths, and the play refuses ever to spoonfeed anyone – I can’t stress strongly enough how refreshing this is.

The subtext is strong – everything you could want in terms of engagement with both character and story is present, though often largely unspoken. The only off note comes when Vera comments on Leo’s girlfriend, Bec, being ‘chunky’ – Ngaire Dawn Fair, who plays the vulnerable Bec is slender, forcing one to make a conscious imaginative allowance for the sake of the narrative. It’s a small thing, but still a distraction. The alteration of a few words could fix it.

All in all, 4000 Miles is of the most satisfying, deeply amusing and affecting works of theatre this reviewer has ever enjoyed. You come away from it feeling happy, though already missing its characters and wanting to revisit them, as if they were old friends.

Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5

Red Stitch Actors Theatre present

4000 Miles

Written by Amy Herzog

Directed by Mark Pritchard

Cast: Julia Blake, Tim Ross, Ngaire Dawn Fair, Haiha Le


Red Stitch Actors Theatre, St Kilda

8 February – 9 March


Liza Dezfouli
About the Author
Liza Dezfouli reviews live performance, film, books, and occasionally music. She writes about feminism and mandatory amato-heteronormativity on her blog WhenMrWrongfeelsSoRight. She can occasionally be seen in short films and on stage with the unHOWsed collective. She also performs comedy, poetry, and spoken word when she feels like it.