March 14, 2015
Usually, by this time of the year, Repertory Philippines already had two plays done in its current season. However, oddly this year, Rep was very quiet. There was no grand announcement last December as they usually did. Frankly, I was concerned they would not be having a season this year. It was only this month when the Rep announced that it had a play coming up, and I was very relieved.
The title of the show is "4000 Miles." It is a play written by Amy Herzog that had its off-Broadway debut in 2011. It won the 2012 Obie Award for Best New American Play. It won the 2012 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award. It was #1 on Time Magazine's list of 2012 Plays and Musicals. It was also a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I am happy that Rep has chosen more recent material this time around. Fans notice that they frequently stage material from the 1960s or 70s which tend to be very dated in style.
21-year old Leo Joseph-Connell was on a cross-country bike ride when a major tragedy struck. He sought out and bunked with his 91-year old grandmother Vera in her New York City apartment. This decision led to a month-long bonding stay around which the story of "4000 Miles" revolved. The play is just a series of conversations between grandmother and grandson in Vera's apartment. There is no real unifying theme in these conversations, just random topics with no clear relations to each other. The off-putting sex talk (hardly a topic grandmas and grandsons really talk about) and the occasional expletives make this show inappropriate for young teens.
Being a simple talky play with hardly any physical action nor major histrionic moments, it really just depends on the talents of the actors to make the audience listen and pay attention. If we were given any lesser actors to bring this type of script to life, it would be so easy for the audience to just tune out or even nod off. Fortunately it was not the case in this production.
The esteemed Ms. Baby Barredo herself, one of the pillars of Repertory Philippines, played Vera Joseph. I missed Ms. Barredo's performance as Violet Weston in last year's Rep production of "August Osage County" (though I was thoroughly enthralled by the riveting performance of her alternate Sheila Francisco), so I made sure I did not miss this one. You really cannot separate actor and character here. It seems Ms Barredo and Vera are one person. It seemed that every deep breath Ms. Barredo drew or every frown her face formed is exactly what Vera would do in that situation.
However, the character of Vera though did not have any big moment. She was not even the central character of the play at all. Ms. Barredo graciously allowed her newcomer co-star Jeff Flores to shine on center stage. Tall, lanky with a long mane of hair, Flores perfectly fit the bill of the slacker Leo, a young man who is at a crossroads in his life and had seemingly no idea what to do next. By the time he was delivering Leo's big moment -- an emotional 10-minute-or-so monologue in Act 2, I was very impressed. Flores nailed that difficult scene with no sense of pretense at all. This was certainly an auspicious and star-making dramatic debut for this new actor.
The liveliest scene of the play is that one featuring Cara Barredo as Amanda, a chirpy Chinese party girl whom Leo brings home to the apartment. She was simply so naturally delightful and fun to watch, unmindful of her racy lines and revealing costume. She was a welcome breath of fresh air in what was becoming a heavy-handed serious talkfest.
Caisa Borromeo is also in the cast as Leo's girlfriend Bec. Even if she has two longer scenes than Amanda, Bec did not have anything memorable about her at all. This is not Borromeo's fault though but the thankless way her character was written. Borromeo does her best with the rather lifeless and underwritten part.
The set is beautifully planned and executed, really looking like a real NYC flat, especially with that hallway that allowed us to see the door of their neighbor. The lighting was very effective in those intense dramatic moments. Director Bart Guingona comes up with a well-staged production. Even with the limitations of the script, he was successful in drawing inspired performances from his talented cast.
"4000 Miles" runs this weekend up to March 29, 2015, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, 3:30pm and 8:00pm at the OnStage Theatre (2nd Floor, Greenbelt 1 Paseo de Roxas, Makati City).