‘4000 Miles’ takes a journey across generations

Keon Wilson and Marilyn Carter as grandson Leo and grandmother Vera in 4000 Miles.
Keon Wilson and Marilyn Carter as grandson Leo and grandmother Vera in 4000 Miles. Alex Aguilar

We all have grandparents. They are older, slower and forgetful, yet wiser, smarter and forgiving. In Three Bone Theatre’s “4000 Miles,” presented at UpStage, a former communist grandmother is all these things and more when she takes in her nomadic hippie grandson for a spell that she secretly hopes will be permanent.

When a tired and bewildered Leo (Keon Wilson) lands on his grandmother Vera’s (Marilyn Carter) New York City doorstep at 3 a.m. hauling a bicycle and a backpack full of dirty laundry, he creates a tempestuous few weeks for the nearly senile octogenarian who hasn’t quite reclaimed her identity after her husband’s death 10 years prior.

The name of Leo’s grandfather is still perched atop their mailbox with no mention of her. Perhaps this is a testament to her nonexistence to much of the outside world. She has lived as Mrs. Joseph for the last several years, and it proves challenging to shed that status. She despises growing older and hates forgetting words, stammering on thoughts she can’t complete. At times it seemed that life imitated art, as I couldn’t determine if she drew a blank while delivering a few lines or if it was part of the script.

Writer Amy Herzog’s juxtaposition of the millennial and his elder is commonplace. Vera seems to be facing the onset of dementia and swearing off any technological advances, while Leo, who recently faced a tragedy during his cross-country trek, is emotionally lost and in no hurry to find himself. He has no job, no permanent residence, and borrows money from Vera to scale walls at the local rock climbing facility, at $50 a pop.

Carter has a Kathryn Hepburn beauty that causes you to pay attention when she rants. She stands out, portraying a quite believable Vera, reminiscing about earlier days and spewing subtle insults that you just have to forgive.

Director Sarah Provencal has interesting casting choices – Leo is black and Vera is white. There was no mention of the difference in race for the two main characters, but it could be explained by Leo’s grandfather having children prior to marrying Vera. The intimate theater works well as Vera’s homely living room with a vintage couch, side chairs, a coffee table, and books piled to the ceiling with several stuffed in the fireplace.

Leo struggles with young problems – Vera resists old problems. They’re both mourning life and death simultaneously, and lines often blur. The duo connect and attempt to silently heal each other’s pain with heartfelt embraces as both face the demise of someone or some thing. When they’re not snapping each other’s heads off, somehow they manage to coexist and forge a bond bound by mutual respect and endearing love.

‘4000 Miles’

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 14-16.

Where: UpStage Theater, 3306-C N. Davidson St.

Tickets: $16/advance, $18/door. Must be 18 or older.

Running time: 90 minutes.

Details: 704-430-4821 or upstagenoda.com