A new odd couple

Park Square Theatre will hold the regional premiere of “4000 Miles” this weekend.

Jackie Renzetti

Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles” dramatic comedy features a zany pair of roommates.

After 21-year-old protagonist Leo Joseph-Connell completes a 4,000-mile cross-country bike ride, he decides to crash at his grandmother’s house.

As the two reacquaint, they learn from each other’s different perspectives due to their age gap. The play premiered in 2011 and was placed as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama last year. Park Square Theatre’s production of the play this weekend will mark its regional premiere.

“It’s really a beautiful story, but it’s not sappy. It’s not about a warm and fuzzy relationship between a grandmother and her grandson,” said actor Gabriel Murphy, who plays the protagonist.

One of the biggest differences between the two characters’ perspectives spurs from their shared liberal political alignment. The grandmother, Vera Joseph, grew up following Marxism and lived through various labor causes, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Cuban missile crisis.

The young character has the political views of a millennial. When he first arrives at his grandmother’s, director Gary Gisselman said, she offers him a banana, and he rejects it because of its environmental impact.

Gisselman said the comparison between Leo’s grandmother’s concerns and his individualized, “new-age environmental politics” carry the notion of learning to get along and leave people alone.

“It’s a totally different liberal politics from her liberal politics, and I like watching how all of that goes together,” he said.

Similarly, Leo studied Marxism in college and discusses it with his grandmother. Despite finding common ground, they view the political ideology differently because of their age gap.

“She lived her life according to certain principles, and he’s studying those principles,” Gisselman said.

The play’s five-member cast received the script in June and met up for the first time earlier this month. The rehearsal process lasted three weeks. Gisselman said having a small cast allowed the actors to dig deep into character relationships and associated backstories.

“The idea of doing a small cast in a smaller theater was really appealing,” Gisselman said. “You can do that kind of intimate work in a smaller cast play that you don’t always get the chance to do with a larger cast play.”

Because the plot focuses on family dynamics, the bond between the play’s actors is especially important. Ultimately, the relationship between Leo and Vera goes beyond discussing politics, as they find similarities in their troubles.

“You can tell right away that something terrible happened to [Leo],” Murphy said.

As Leo reveals his personal hardship over the course of the play, Vera does the same. But their perspectives continue to differ because of Vera’s experience and Leo’s naiveté.

“The grandmother is growing old, and the grandson is growing up,” Gisselman said.

Leo ultimately finds healing from the relationship, and though Gisselman said the play’s conclusion is “more hopeful than not hopeful,” the plot will likely surprise audiences in Minnesota.

“I don’t know that anything is resolved in this play. I think there’s a certain amount of understanding and appreciation, but it’s certainly not tied up in a bow,” Gisselman said.

 

What: 4000 Miles

Where: Park Square Theatre, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul

When: Dec. 5-21; 2 p.m. weekends, 7:30 p.m. weekdays

Cost: $19-58