The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has taken Amy Herzog's critically acclaimed 4000 Miles script and capitalized on it — to enthusiastic crowds and standing ovations. The play, a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, revolves around relationships between family and friends, and the challenges we face as we age.
Leo (Benjamin Bonenfant) is a Millennial who crashes at his 91-year-old grandmother's apartment after an epic bike trip from Seattle to New York City. He's dealing with grief and guilt, having seen his best friend Micah killed by a truck packed with chickens while going through Kansas.
Vera (Billie McBride), meanwhile, is losing her memory, and she is nearly deaf. Their living together, even briefly, is a bristly, tense proposition.
McBride and Bonenfant are both talented actors who have a natural chemistry. McBride embodies classic caretaker qualities — as someone said after the show, "She reminds me of my grandmother" — and is a master of physical comedy and timing. When she delivers a simple line, such as "I don't have my hearing aid on," it brings the house down. McBride's punch lines really punch, but it is the scenes where her memory and words fail her that touch us on a deep, emotional level.
Bonenfant's Leo matures gracefully, if reluctantly, in Vera's orbit. When we first meet him, he's aimless, jobless and emotionally distraught. He's lost his best friend, he has problems with his girlfriend Bec (Rachel Baker), and he has an awkward date with Amanda (Erica Erickson). When he tells his grandmother how Micah died, Bonenfant starts, at that moment, in that scene, to grow up. It's a touching, delicate transformation from boy to man, and Bonenfant seems to pull it off effortlessly.
The beauty of Herzog's script is not only in her focus on difficult but redeemable relationships, but also in how she has given her characters the intelligence and the maturity to face them.
Scenic designer Christopher L. Sheley has put together a beautiful, detailed set that includes a barely seen but still fully furnished bedroom. Sheley adds some discreet touches to help flesh out Vera's activist backstory, including a "peace/love" sign partially visible upstage, and a hallway hammer-and-sickle emblem.
Holly Anne Rawls' lighting design is excellent, but especially so in a pivotal night scene. She plunges the actors into virtual darkness, forcing the audience to focus on the dialogue, instead of the actors. It's bold but effective.
Director Scott RC Levy and Alex Ruhlin co-designed the sound for 4000 Miles, which might have been improved with microphones. From my seat, five rows from the back, the sound was muddled at times. Notwithstanding that minor glitch, the show is technically solid in all respects.