Mar 12, 2015

[Theater] 4000 Miles (Repertory Philippines)

I found it a bit surprising that Repertory Philippines did not announce their 2015 line-up at the end of last year. That was the pattern established in recent years so I was a little concerned that no announcement was visible on their social media pages and such. And given how we've been regular subscribers to their full season for the two years at least, I really hoped it didn't mean anything bad.

It was in mid-February that we noticed a poster for 4000 Miles while going around Greenbelt 1, and so that was rather reassuring. And while it seems their regular season this year only consists of two straight plays instead of three, I suppose that's better than nothing.

And what drew us most to this play is the fact that the cast includeded Baby Barredo as part of the primary cast. We had last seen her in Orange Osage County, and she was pretty amazing in that role. So we were rather keen to see how she would perform in this production, which had a vague yet potentially interesting plot based on the limited synopsis published online.

Synopsis: 4000 Miles is a dramatic comedy play written by Amy Herzog. The play ran off-Broadway in 2011 and again in 2012 and was a finalist for the 2013 Pulizer Prize for Drama. The Repertory Philippines staging ran starting March 6 and ends on March 29, 2015 at the Greenbelt OnStage Theater. It was directed by Bart Guingona.

The play begins with young Leo (Jeff Flores) ending up at the apartment of his grandmother Vera (Baby Barredo) in the wee hours of the morning. It is slowly revealed that he has been on a cross-country biking adventure starting in Washington and was now in Manhattan. And while Vera initially questions why he was in the city and why he was here instead of with his girlfriend Bec (Caisa Borromeo), who was also in the city, in the end she stops her questions and coaxes Leo to stay. She promises not to tell Leo's mother of his visit and things of that nature.

What follows is a slow reveal of what had brought Leo all the way across America on a bicycle and the recent twists and turns of his life. It's also an experience of seeing how these two get used to life together sharing an apartment and how Vera does her best to stay out of Leo's way while still doing her part in setting him straight. But everything comes back to Leo, who obviously has something that is troubling him and he clearly needs to work through things.

Jeff Flores was an interesting addition to the cast and a lot of the play rested on his shoulders. He's a decent enough actor, although I felt there were moments when he wasn't quite fully committed to the moment or perhaps he had weird direction - hard to tell which is which, really. It doesn't make the play bad or the acting bad either - there were just those moments when things felt like things were just a little off. It's sort of like when a joke is delivered and the comedian misses the beat or you're at a concert and one of the musicians is off by a note.

Baby Barredo was a darling in this play and you could tell that she had a lot of fun with the role of Vera. It's a brilliant role where even one's forgetfulness when it comes to lines could totally blend into the natural character dialog. There was even a moment during our production when Baby's hearing aid prop fell out of her ear multiple times and it was all easily made part of the scene. I wasn't really sure if it was truly an accident or if she was able to drop her prop at will as part of the stage directions for the scene. And it's only seasoned veterans like Baby who can pull off such improvisations as needed.

As for the story of the play, it's a rather somber one and the comedic moments were few and far between, or at the very least rather subtle. Revealing the full nature of Leo's story involves a bit of a slow burn style of story telling and you'll need a little patience to get through things. At first glance it seems that the scenes are all just slice of life moments of Leo and Vera getting used to living together. But Vera is a craftily written character who uses many different situations as metaphors and allegories for what she thinks is going on with Leo. In hindsight, it seems to me that many of Vera's apparent rambling stories are actually pretty relevant to what was going on at the time, and that's some very clever writing indeed.

The set design was lovely and the whole apartment set had nice depth to it and diversity in terms of entrances and exits. All scenes take place in the same living room set with the couch as central focus. And despite that, the play doesn't feel all that drab since they made sure to fill up the space with interesting details as opposed to going all minimalist with just a couch or something like that.

It made me a little sad that not too many people were at the theater the day we watched, but it was opening weekend and I suspect that Repertory Philippines' late advertising push had more to do with that than the quality of the play. The production was an interesting choice to start the season with and I appreciate how Repertory Philippines is willing to work with material like this, which may not be too well-known, but still has a lot of potential.

4000 Miles is the sort of play that tries to link to the confused teenager in all of us. Sure, we don't necessarily have the same level of trauma in our recent past as Leo does here, but on the whole things still feel familiar. The play gets a good 3.5 instances of Vera "losing her words" out of a possible 5.

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