The delusion we have of expectation and reality is that they ever meet. They are strangers and star-crossed lovers at best.
Even if the details of our day go almost exactly as we’ve planned them, some minor discrepancy will splinter the mold, no matter how loose-fitting we make it. Unforeseen interactions can take us from darkness to light and back in the exposure of our plan. Depending on the magnitude and volume of these missteps, it can break some people and irreparably shatter others. But if we allow it, the unexpected can build us up. Isn’t our existence eclipsed by our inability to truly predict or plan for anything? 4000 Miles, a play by Amy Herzog performed at the Artist Repertory Theater, takes the shape of a lens that enables us to peer into the psychological impact of expectation and change along our journey. It is here that we backpack on our own expedition for a deeper look.
We meet the likes of one of the main characters, Leo, played by Joshua J. Weinstein, in our lives here out West so many times. In fact, I think he’s one of the first people I got to know when I moved here from Michigan. At 21-years old, he’s come all the way from the Pacific NW to stay in Manhattan with his 91-year old grandmother, Vera, in order to rest before leaving again for the west coast. He’s complete with his sturdy bike, matching stature, and plenty of saddle bags. The dusted outline left on him by his backpack is one I’ve seen before on those who’ve biked thousands of miles.
In contrast, Vera, played by Vana O’Brien, is ghost-like; as pale as the moonlight that creeps in through the windows. The way the light hits her reminds me of upping the exposure of a photograph too much. The details of her blend together and I can barely make out any shadows in her frame. She stands dressed in nightwear, frail and naturally disgruntled. It’s late and she lives by routine; twilight visitors simply do not exist in her world. The conversation is abrasive upon meeting the two and the theme “wrong timing” becomes one of many we’ll add to our load. Her immediate inquisition plays on a stubbornness in Leo, who threatens to leave and almost does before she stops him.
I can’t say how many times I’ve done this in my life, not feeling the need to explain myself and not wanting to impose on anyone in the slightest – I’ve run, from conversations, people, zip codes. It seems to be a character trait that arises when we’ve been alone in our heads too long. We become unwilling to break those thoughts down for others. Our terror is in misunderstanding; our waking nightmare is wasted breath. The road has been hard on Leo.
The next morning Vera sits folding his laundry and we can’t tell if her shaking hands are born of minor stage fright or if she simply is that practiced. Someone in the audience confirms our trust, whispering “she’s really good.” My sister who accompanied me to the show has a background in home healthcare. I know she’s picking up on the authenticity Vana cultivates for the 91-year-old Vera.
A bond begins to form when Vera offers Leo coffee. The eagerness in his answer speaks to a humbling pleasure and appreciation that we resort to when we have little else. It’s a childlike freshness married to the gratitude of someone who’s spent a couple decades on earth. It can come in the shape of weary travelers after miles of roadway or exhausting life paths. It’s after we unpack all of the unnecessary clutter, all of the expectation placed upon ourselves that we can truly sit with another being and take each other in.
I’m thankful Herzog centered the play around getting to know these two dynamic characters. The focus is on the correlations and differences in the perceptions of two individuals with a 70-year age gap. Vera is a self-proclaimed “progressive” and despite his struggle, Leo is progressively practicing living in the now while juggling his activist heart. By way of her questioning Leo about his travels, we learn similarities and differences that compliment one another. In time we begin to see the inner-workings of Leo’s isolation, learning details of his choices, his past, and why he is where we find him.
There is an effervescence that exists in facing the unexpected. Sometimes it isn’t immediately there because we can be so consumed with the initial shell-shock. If we let it happen though, it begins at our sacrum, takes our spine north and escapes through our tear ducts. It is in letting ourselves get wholly lost. It is giving up the answers to where we are headed and breaking it down to what we enjoy in life. It is allowing the time to hoof it through our brevity here without direction. Vana O’Brien and Joshua J. Weinstein take us effortlessly on a journey of 4000 Miles to the destination of wherever we are.
The Artists Repertory Theater is showing 4000 Miles now through May 24th.