The Dayton Theatre Guild enters 2015 with a solid local premiere of Amy Herzog’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-nominated dramatic comedy “4000 Miles,” an emotionally awkward and surprisingly poignant depiction of two headstrong individuals in need of stability and protection.
Sharply directed by Kathy Mola with an excellent grasp of tone,”4000 Miles” concerns 21-year-old college student Leo Joseph-Connell who travels by bike from Seattle to New York’s Greenwich Village to visit his 91-year-old grandmother Vera. Grief, tragedy, uncertainty, and disillusionment cause Leo to seek temporary solace, but misunderstandings are ultimately unavoidable, especially since it seems Leo, still trying to find his purpose in life, and Vera, suffering from dementia, can be irritable relatives. Affection just doesn’t come easy to them, and in turn, Herzog threatens to keep the audience at a cool distance due to prickly quarrels. Still, their complex relationship evolves for the better when vulnerability arises, particularly as Leo reveals the details of his best friend’s death which occurred on his excursion. Inevitably, Vera, on the brink of requiring a caregiver, comes to understand how difficult it is for young adults to remain planted when Leo rejects her offer to extend his stay in her cozy apartment, attractively designed by Fred Blumenthal and accented by Wendi Michael.
Jared Mola, superb earlier this season as Roy in the Guild’s “Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music,” and Barbara Jorgensen, a longtime Guild member inducted last year into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, create terrifically grounded portrayals that sting and soothe. The energetic, engaging Mola inhabits Leo with a defensive, easily agitated edge signifying how troubled and confused he is underneath his tough exterior, especially when Leo’s journey involves the odd reality that he kissed his sister at a party. Mola, wonderfully astute, not only fills this quandary with believable ambiguity, but particularly captivates in his marvelous delivery of Leo’s heartbreaking monologue reflecting on the final moments he shared with his friend. The magnetic Jorgensen, conveying a feeble, sluggish sensibility, greatly appeals with outspoken charm, genuine feistiness, and a gentle awareness that Vera is heading into her twilight years with dignity and grace. Appealing Guild newcomers Lindsey Kortyka (as Leo’s testy ex-girlfriend Bec) and Anna Prince (very funny as Amanda, Leo’s boozy date) complete the cast in thankless, underwritten roles.
“4000 Miles” continues through Jan. 25 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. The play is performed in two acts which run roughly 45 minutes each. Tickets are $19 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $12 for students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org. Patrons are advised the show contains adult language and themes.