Friday, April 11, 2014

Asolo Rep Presents 4000 Miles

The attention to detail that the Asolo Repertory Theater gives its productions is just one reason why going to a performance there is always a treat.  Take, for instance, the set for 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog.  As the play opens, we find ourselves in the living room of a brownstone apartment somewhere in lower Manhattan. The windows to the apartment were situated on the left hand side of the stage, and when day broke the sunlight filtered through the curtains.  We could hear the traffic outside the window, much as I myself heard every day during the 13 years that I lived in New York.  It was a small touch, but one that I noticed and appreciated.

I was glad that I noticed these details before the play really got underway because once it did, I was fully engrossed.  At its heart, 4000 Miles involves the relationship between a woman who is facing her mortality and her grandson who is struggling to come to terms with a recent tragedy.   Lois Markle is a wonderful actress who is appearing at Asolo Rep for the first time.  Her credits include performances on Broadway in True West (with the much-missed Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and The Grapes of Wrath (now being performed on the Asolo's main stage).  Markle was superb as Vera.  She fully inhabited her character both physically and emotionally. While Vera is definitely spry for a 91-year old, she is a bit stooped and has trouble hearing.  She is funny at times, and more than a bit insightful.  I realized later that Markle reminded me of Frances Sternhagen, an actress whose performances I always enjoy.  I hope we'll see more of her.  

Ben Williamson took on the role of Leo, her grandson.  I didn't have a chance to look at the program before the show began, and I was astonished to learn that Williamson is a third year student in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory Theater program.  He was excellent and had every bit the stage presence of a seasoned actor in a role that could have easily been overplayed.  (Given the caliber of performance the second year students have put on this year, I really shouldn't have been surprised.)

Of course, strong acting alone is not enough to make a theater performance enjoyable  You need a good script as well, and 4000 Miles more than filled the bill.  The show was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, won the 2012 Obie Award for Best New American Play, and was lauded by Time Magazine as the "best play of the season, hands down."  It's a story about dealing with loss and change and relationships.  In other words, it's a story about life.  4000 Miles is playing at the Asolo Rep through April 27th.  It's worth making a trip to Sarasota to see.      

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