1501 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
4000 MILESby Amy Herzogdirected by Joy Zinoman
A compassionate and unsentimental drama about the life-changing relationship between a grandson who can’t face his life and a grandmother who is starting to forget hers.
21-year-old Leo arrives unannounced at the Greenwich Village apartment of his 91-year-old Jewish leftist grandmother Vera. As an overnight couch-surf turns into an extended stay, 4000 Miles unearths a surprising commonality between these two generations in this emotionally compelling drama.
From one of America’s brightest playwrights, this compassionate and unsentimental play explores the funny, frustrating, and ultimately life-changing relationship between a grandson learning to face his life and a grandmother who is starting to forget hers.
Herzog and her grandmother share a mix of inquiry, generosity, and clear-eyed honesty, attributes that are richly apparent in Vera Joseph and the rest of Herzog’s characters. Will Vera make it into a third play? Herzog has begun thinking about a final play that will feature the fictional Joseph clan, although neither the plot nor cast list has taken shape yet. It probably won’t deal explicitly with plot points from either of the other Joseph plays, but is likely to pick up on the emotional complexities of the Joseph family and their intersecting legacies. “I don’t know anyone who is present and thoughtful going through their whole lives,” Herzog observes. “The things that we inherit from our families are the things that we really question.”
In Her Own Words: Amy Herzog on 4000 Miles
The play takes place in New York City because it's where Vera lives, but I was also interested in what that environment means to Leo, outdoorsman and latter-day transcendentalist that he is. I biked across the country the summer after I graduated from college, and almost immediately thereafter moved to New York to embark on adult life. It was a rude awakening in ways I didn't recognize at the time...I had been traveling across these expansive, gorgeous, lonely landscapes for two months, sometimes covering upwards of 70 miles without seeing a town, and urban life was a difficult adjustment. I missed the simplicity of life on the road and the feeling of accomplishment that came at the end of every day. For Leo, who has no plans beyond making his way to the Atlantic, and who has just suffered a devastating loss, the city must be even more disorienting. He navigated his way here from Seattle but he doesn't know which direction his grandmother's windows face.
Although he isn’t a designer on the show, Mike Donohue, Studio Theatre’s Technical Director, is responsible for creating the set design. He talks with Resident Assistant Director Christopher Mirto about his unique position as a member of the 4000 Miles production team.
What is your role here at Studio?
What are your responsibilities on 4000 Miles?
I oversee the planning, scheduling, budget management, building, and installation of all scenic elements. You can image what would happen if I didn't do it.
What is it like working with Russell Metheny?
I love it! Working with Russell particularly is really easy because there’s not playing catch up: he knows all the ins and outs of the spaces because he designed them. It makes my life pretty effortless because he is so attuned to the intricacies of each theatre. I’m really drawn to his personality. He’s really inspirational in pitching in and doing little things, like painting a book case. He doesn’t have to paint the book case because we’re behind or not doing it right. He does it because he really likes the community and enjoys spending time with people. Not many designers are as generous and as hands-on as he is.
What’s the most notable piece of this set, from your point of view?
Every set seems to have at least one piece that presents a challenge and at the very least gives you a small run for your artistic money. Often times it will be the first and possibly last time you will ever build a scenic piece quite like it. This particular set didn't have too many surprises or any moving parts. But there is one piece in particular that I take great pride in—it's a piece that an audience member may not think twice about after seeing it, or even notice it altogether: There is a small scenic wall stage left that acts as a masking wall for offstage. This wall not only has abnormal angles, but is also curved to mimic turn-of-the-century craftsmanship. The wall seems innocent enough, but actually ended up taking the better part of two days to construct. I took the wall on myself so the rest of the shop could concentrate on the assembly line of wall construction they were already in the rhythm of. The wall is constructed out of traditional theatrical flat material, but the curve is where the real magic happens. The curve is made up of bendable plywood that ultimately took three people to bend and shape. Sometimes it truly is the little things that make theatre a fascinating profession.
What are your interactions with the artists like?
Working with the artist on this production has been particularly special. Not only am I working with the founder and co-founder of Studio, but also two designers, Dan and Helen, who go back to the theatre's original conception. It’s hands-down the best design team I’ve ever worked with. Their experience makes it easy because their decisions are precise. Everything is already worked out—they take their work seriously, but not too seriously.
What kind of training do you have?
I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a BFA in Theatre Production and Design. After graduating, I worked in the architectural field for several years before returning to theatre. I found myself in DC working at Arena Stage as scenic carpenter and now into my third season here at Studio.
How do you begin the process with each show?
Each production is introduced to the staff through a director and designer “show and tell.” Here, the play is briefly dissected and all design concepts are revealed. At this point, their concepts aren’t limited by budget or time restrictions, but that soon changes. After receiving a set of drawings from the designer, I begin the process of going through each scenic piece with a fine tooth comb and estimate what each item will cost. This can often be where a designer must make challenging compromises. After some back and forth and creative editing, a final design is settled upon and the building can begin.
What’s one of your favorite theatrical moments here at Studio this season?
I remember losing hours of sleep each night over the light bulb ceiling in Invisible Man. When I finally saw the ceiling light up and fly up and down for the first time it was amazing. I would say that that show was the greatest technical accomplishment of the 2nd floor [where Studio’s shop is located] since I started working here.
Brian Sink had been a runner, not a cyclist, when he first biked across the United States with “Bike the US for MS” in 2012. “I’ve driven across the country many times,” he wrote as he prepared for the first ride, “and I’ve often looked longingly at the roads, thinking it would be better riding a bike across them than driving them.” He completed that ride, and is back for more. Studio Theatre is partnering with Bike the US for MS as a part of our production of 4000 Miles.
Here are Brian’s thoughts as he prepares for another 4,000 miles on the road. For more information about the ride, or to support Bike the US for MS, please visit their site: http://www.biketheusforms.org/
We were told that it would be tough readjusting to real life again after the TransAm [2012 TransAmerican Bike Trip], and they were right. In 2012, when we had hard, hot days in Kansas, the question was which was the tough part, the heat or the wind. My thought was, “It’s the biking.” But since [finishing in] San Francisco, all I want to do is ride my bike, and real life, my bed and shower aren’t as satisfying as they used to be. This trip changed my perspective on so many things, most of all on how little we really need in life, and in how many people deal with MS and how many keep a positive outlook through it all. So I decided to do it again in 2013, in better shape, more experienced and wiser about the trip, but mainly to help out again. God was good to me in 2012, allowing me to ride without incident and really enjoy His beautiful creation in a way I’d wanted to do for 30 years.
Adrien-Alice: You started rehearsals on February 18. Coming into this process, what did you think would be the toughest part of this play? Where you right? How did that play out?
Grant: Initially I thought the hardest part of 4000 Miles would be memorizing the lines and doing this great play justice. When I was sitting down with the script and studying it, I just kept thinking "how the hell am I going to be able to do this?” But I've learned that that's exactly where I want to be as an artist, taking on projects that are challenging me, working on great material and with collaborators who open you up and enable you to grow through the work, thereby also as a person. I was wrong about the lines and doing the play justice, with a captain like Joy, putting the play together was pretty easy because she challenged us with all these ideas, insightful interplay and business onstage which at first are really difficult to learn (all at once) but then once you find the rhythm, the play becomes easy and fun. The hardest part then became having to eat 2 Danishes a day (and on two show days 4 Danishes a day!!!) for three months straight, in scene 2. If Joy had mentioned the "Danish equation" at the audition, I just may not have accepted this role...
AH: What’s been the biggest surprise of the play?
GH: The biggest surprise is the incredible contrast of comedy/tragedy. I don't think, upon reading it, I really understood the distinct contrast within the piece, and how (which is something that really interests me as a performer) the audience can be hysterical at one moment and then an instant later, the moment switches and everyone is really taken aback. For example, the way Leo yells at Vera or in scene 6 when the interplay between Leo and Amanda is flirtatious and fun and you think it’s really going to happen between these two, but it shifts on a dime and the fun, spontaneous atmosphere is totally shot down and these two people are repelled from one another, I think that's one of my favorite moments of the play because it’s so real, so life-like and also so theatrical. When performing it, you can feel the audience having almost no idea what will come next, that's very exciting for me as an actor.
AH: What would you say is the moment or aspect of the play that has changed the most since your first preview performance of 4000 Miles?
GH: I think the whole play has changed quite a bit since the first preview. At the beginning you're just sort of feeling what it’s like to share this piece of insular art that has been contained in a rehearsal setting and you're not used to other bodies in the room...which is the final and most essential ingredient. I think at the beginning you're trying to get it "right" and that's never too much fun, so there is a lot of stress involved...then, hopefully you relax into it and it begins to breathe. I'll try to articulate this, at the beginning you're kind of playing the center-point of a line of the character, but a character like Leo has a very long line, where at one end he's really funny and playful and then at the polar opposite end he's very sad, confused and grief-stricken. As the run goes on, you're able to play the gamut of this line, rather than just playing the "center-point" of it, which is kind of who you think this person is before performance. Did that make sense?
AH: Of course it does—I think you're tremendously articulate about the art of living into a character. What do you do with your days, now that you’re in performances? Do you have a favorite DC spot?
3. The Whole Foods world food buffet (what a spread!)
AH: Do you know what’s next for you, after Studio? (Don’t leave us, Grant!!!)
Russell Metheny (Set Design) has designed
more than 50 productions at The Studio Theatre over the past thirty-five years.
Some of his Studio Theatre designs include Superior
Donuts, American Buffalo, Rock
‘n’ Roll, The Seafarer, Grey Gardens, The History Boys,
Shining City, Ivanov, Topdog/Underdog, The York Realist,
A Class Act, The Play About the Baby, The Invention of Love,
Indian Ink, bash, Far East, The Three Sisters, and The
Slab Boys Trilogy. His regional credits include productions at Indiana
Repertory Theatre, Great Lakes Theater Festival, Idaho Shakespeare Festival,
The Old Globe, Asolo Repertory Theatre, Geffen Playhouse, Dallas Theater
Center, Missouri Repertory Theatre, Studio Arena Theatre, Geva Theatre Center,
Goodman Theatre, Portland Stage Company, and Weston Playhouse. Recent
productions include A Little Night Music, Blithe Spirit, The House That Jack
Built, 1776, My Fair Lady, Jekyll and Hyde, Two Gentlemen of Verona. Upcoming productions include Philadelphia,
Here I Come! for Asolo Repertory Theatre and 1776 for American Contemporary Theatre in San Francisco,
both with director Frank Galati.
Daniel MacLean Wagner (Lighting Design) is pleased to return to Studio Theatre,
where he served as Resident Lighting Designer from 1984-1997, designing more
than 50 productions. He has designed
more than 400 productions at many theatres including Arden Theatre Company,
Berkshire Theatre Festival, Boston Lyric Opera, Philadelphia Theatre Company,
Portland Stage Company, Arena Stage, The Shakespeare Theatre, The John F.
Kennedy Center, Signature Theatre, Round House Theatre, Theatre of the First
Amendment, Horizons Theatre, Potomac Theatre Project, The Rep Stage, Woolly
Mammoth Theatre Company, and Olney Theatre Center. He is an eight-time
recipient of the Helen Hayes Award, for which he has received 28
nominations. His recent designs include Glengarry Glen Ross at Round House Theatre and Our Class at Theater J. Mr. Wagner is a member of the Artists Roundtable
at Round House Theatre and is Resident Lighting Designer at Olney Theatre
Center. Mr. Wagner served as the Director of School of Theatre, Dance, and
Performance Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park from 2001-2012,
where he remains a Professor of Lighting Design.
Helen Huang (Costume Design) has collaborated
with Ms. Zinoman on almost 30 productions. Her
design work has been seen locally at Classic
Stage Company, The Washington Ballet, Ford’s Theatre, Folger Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre
Company, Arena Stage, and Signature Theatre Company. She has also designed costumes for the Guthrie
Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Children’s Theatre Company, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Philadelphia
Theatre Company, Utah Shakespearean
Festival, Disney Entertainment, Syracuse
Stage, PlayMakers Repertory Company, and
Boston Lyric Opera. Her
international work includes set and costume design at National Opera House of
China and the Central Television of China. She has received a Helen Hayes Award
and an Ivey Award. Her costume designs have been featured at the Prague
Quadrennial and in the exhibition “Curtain Call: Celebrating a Century of Women
Designing for Live Performance” at The New York Public Library for the
Performing Arts. Ms. Huang served as an expert judge at the Figurative Design
Training Consortium in Beijing and is a professor of MFA Costume Design at
University of Maryland, College Park.
Annie Chang (Amanda) has been
seen internationally in the world premiere of Wild Swans at the American Repertory Theatre and the Young Vic
(London). Her other credits include The
Burkinis at the Abingdon Theatre, Decade
in the Harold Clurman Series at The Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Romeo and Juliet at the Camino Real
Playhouse, and T.A.B. at Manhattan
Theatre Rep. Ms. Chang’s television credits include The Carrie Diaries, The
Following, White Collar, One Life to Live, and Girlhattan.
Heather Haney (Rebecca) is delighted to make
her Studio Theatre debut. Her other
local credits include Our Class and The Moscows of Nantucket at Theater J; Pride and Prejudice at Round House
Theatre; The Bacchae, Mary Stuart, Caligula, and Hedda Gabler
at WSC AvantBard, where she is an Acting Company member; The Ramayana, On The Razzle, A Flea in Her Ear, and Temptation at Constellation
Theatre Company, where she is an Associate Artist; Goldfish Thinking, Cat’s Cradle, Artist Descending a Staircase and The Oogatz Man at Longacre Lea, where
she is a Company member; The Last Days of
Judas Iscariot at Forum Theatre; and Much
Ado about Nothing at The Shakespeare Theatre Company. Ms. Haney will make
her television debut in a featured role on HBO’s VEEP this spring. She holds a BA in Drama and Dance from Ithaca
About the Playwright