Vera Joseph doesn’t have time to put her teeth in when grandson Leo shows up at her West Village apartment at 3 o’clock in the morning, grubby and reeking.
When he’s showered and changed after a bike ride from Seattle that has cost the life of his best friend and traveling partner, Leo hungrily tears into a pastry.
“Tell me if it’s completely thawed,” she says. “I got a few of those free a month or two ago at the Senior Center.”
“4000 Miles,” Amy Herzog’s appealing new play, unfolds with the unassuming ease of conversations overheard, among people with complicated relationships.
Leo’s shambling grace barely conceals the determination of a young man who knows his mind. He begs Vera not to call his mother, frantic since his failure to show up at the friend’s funeral. He chose instead to complete the trip solo.
Then there’s Leo’s girlfriend Bec, a college student with a strong will of her own. When she appears, the physical attraction of the two young people is as palpable as their destiny is sealed.
Herzog is blessed with a smashing production, staged by Daniel Aukin with an ear finely tuned to the nuances of language at which the writer excels. Lauren Helpern’s beautifully detailed apartment (comfy rooms, too many hallways -- perfect), Japhy Weideman’s moody lighting and Kaye Voyce’s terrific costumes set up the play with easygoing precision.
Best of all is a cast led by the great Mary Louise Wilson as the acerbic yet tender Vera. Gabriel Ebert’s volatile Leo, Zoe Winters’s fed-up Bec and Greta Lee’s flittery Amanda, (a near-fling who serves primarily as comic relief), round it out.
“4000 Miles” shimmers with promise, a tribute to Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3 developmental arm, where tickets will run you just $20. That’s a steal.
At the Duke on 42nd Street, 229 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-646-223-3010; http://www.dukeon42.org. Rating: ***
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(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)