WINNING COMEDY DRAMA ON STAGE AT WESTCHESTER PLAYHOUSE

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

The Westchester Playhouse, home of L.A.’s Kentwood Players, celebrates sixty-five years of continuous production; making it one of the oldest community theatre venues in Southern California, launches its 2015/2016 season with “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog.

Michelle Rosen and Dan Fagan-Photos by Shari Barrett

Michelle Rosen and Dan Fagan-Photos by Shari Barrett

Herzog is a 2012 Obie winning playwright for Best New American Play “4000 Miles. She has been listed as a promising new playwright to watch by New York Theatre Critics, and is the recipient of the Whiting Writers Award and the 2008 Helen Merrill Award for Aspiring Playwrights.

Herzog’s play, poignant at times, contentiously edgy, at times and always sprinkled throughout with sharp, insightful humor, is wonderfully directed by award-winning director/actor Gail Bernardi.

The story, set in New York City in September 2014, centers around the relationship of 21 year-old Leo Joseph Oconnell (Dan Fagan) and his 91 year-old grandmother Vera Joseph (Michelle Rosen). Leo suffered a major loss with the death of his closest friend while he and others were on a cross-country

Alexandra Johnston and Dan Fagen-Photos by Shari Barrett

Alexandra Johnston and Dan Fagen-Photos by Shari Barrett

biking trip. Leo returns to NYC to collect himself, grieve, and attempts to get his life back in some positive direction. He needs to see his old girlfriend Bec (Alexandra Johnston). Bec and Leo once an item, have distanced themselves from one another. Now with the death of Micah their situation has changed once again.

The play opens in the middle of the night with a door bell ringing. Vera doesn’t hear it at first because she doesn’t have her hearing aids in, and the person on the other side of her door (Leo) can’t understand Vera because she forgot to put her teeth in. That’s how Leo and Vera begin their family relationship, which intermittently infuriates one and bewilders the other.

Now bunked- in with Vera in her spacious, rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment that hasn’t been redecorated since 1968, Leo just hangs out, reading books, seemingly not doing much of anything. The age chasm between feisty Vera and millennial Leo, slowly comes together as these two unlikely

Zoe Kim, Aleandra Johnston, Michelle Rosen and Dan Fagan

Zoe Kim, Aleandra Johnston, Michelle Rosen and Dan Fagan

roommates begin to share their histories. Vera was an old card- carrying communist and activist in the late forties and early 50’s. She’s mellowed a bit over the years.   Leo, however, doesn’t have much of an adult history but he’s fascinated by his grandmother’s Bohemian past. He is also not shy about meeting new women, One afternoon Vera comes in from shopping to find Amanda (Zoe Kim) chatting up Leo. Amanda is a bit of a free-thinker with a healthy libido who is not shy about asking Leo why he’s not immediately hitting on her.

Michelle Rosen as Vera delivers an astonishingly rich and layered performance. Her energy and experience over a 50 year career as an actor just jumps off the stage and into the laps of the adorning audience. Dan Fagan, the tall, dark, and handsome Leo is an actor who is not only giving and generous in his scenes with his cast mates, he brings a deep emotional sense of a young man coming to grips with a world that isn’t always fair which comes through in his always in-the-moment performance. Alexandra Johnston and Zoe Kim are talented actors of beauty and Kim’s comedy timing is pitch perfect.

Set Designer Jim Crawford and his crew provide this impressive ensemble cast the creative space needed along with John Beckwith’s lighting to perform their magic. Susan Stangl’s evocative sounds of the city in the opening sets the tone for this wonderfully entertaining 95 minute, no intermission production.

The personal vision of Kentwood’s premiere director Gail Lombardi comes through once again in a splendidly nuanced production produced by Susan Goldman Weisbarth. “4000 Miles” performs at the Westchester Playhouse through June 20, 2015.

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