I always appreciate when performing arts groups make strides toward getting the “next generation” into their seats. Last Thursday, American Conservatory Theater enticed my friend Laura and I to Geary Street for their “Bike to the Theater” night partnership with the San Francisco Bike Coalition. The tie-in? Their current play, Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, uses a cross-country bike ride to set the stage for a study of familial relationships and twentysomething crises. Taking place in a Manhattan rent-controlled apartment, the play centers around grandson Leo and his grandmother Vera getting to know each other as peers while they dissect both life’s senseless tragedy and simple pleasures.
I really enjoyed the play on a personal level, both as a cyclist and as someone who has a very close relationship with her grandmother. As a theatergoer, I left really, really impressed with the award-winning play. The dialog felt incredibly real and the characters plausible, the dead hero imperfect. The structure also tread very close to life — the reveals came throughout. Forming a relationship between the story and the audience, 4000 Miles reminded me of when you meet a new friend who clearly went through recent major life drama. You arrive in the middle and never straight up ask, lest losing the friendship. You let it come out over time. Herzog even throws in an exaggerated character to highlight what happens when you dive in too quickly and things get awkward fast.
The pacing of the 4000 Miles positioned the awkward and heartwrenching scenes against hilarious, natural but quirky comedy. Even the tragedy contains comedic elements. The ending landed perfectly with me. I love inconclusive endings, especially when they avoid any inevitable melodrama, sappy goodbyes or death. So the end really hit as the perfect “end” to an obviously ongoing family story.
On a related note, when I lived in Milwaukee, I enjoyed the Milwaukee Rep‘s Entourage series for many years, even serving on the committee in my last year in the city. Is there program in the Bay Area that offers discounted tickets or special nights for under-40s?