In Her Own Words

By Amy Herzog

4000 Miles is about a young man who stays with his grandmother in Greenwich Village for a few weeks following a crisis. She’s an old communist, he’s a belated hippie, and they’re both dealing with grief and figuring out how to be roommates. It’s my second play about this character Vera, an old New York lefty based on my grandmother, Leepee. Leepee is funny, dry, sassy and devastating at 93. I try to do her justice.

I have a cousin who lives a kind of transcendentalist, hippie kind of life. And he lost a friend about two summers ago, actually in a rafting accident. I really adore this cousin, and I was thinking about this experience that he was going through — of being so young and suffering such a major loss. And I was also interested in just the way he's chosen to live his life kind of outside the mainstream. My grandmother has this very New York, older person's existence that I'm also really interested in. We're very close. So starting with those two characters I invented this play, which was not at all based on any events or anything like that, but it was inspired by those two people.

I did feel very strongly about writing an older character with the dimensions that I observed in my grandmother, because I think there's a way that older people can just disappear. I feel my own grandmother's fight to remain present and relevant in a very pronounced way.

The play takes place in New York City because it's where Vera lives, but I was also interested in what that environment means to Leo, outdoorsman and latter-day transcendentalist that he is. I biked across the country the summer after I graduated from college, and almost immediately thereafter moved to New York to embark on adult life. It was a rude awakening in ways I didn't recognize at the time ... I had been traveling across these expansive, gorgeous, lonely landscapes for two months, sometimes covering upward of 70 miles without seeing a town, and urban life was a difficult adjustment. I missed the simplicity of life on the road and the feeling of accomplishment that came at the end of every day. For Leo, who has no plans beyond making his way to the Atlantic, and who has just suffered a devastating loss, the city must be even more disorienting. He navigated his way here from Seattle but he doesn't know which direction his grandmother's windows face.  

This article was compiled by Adrien-Alice Hansel and originally ran on the Studio Theatre (Washington, D.C.) website in conjunction with its March-April 2013 production of 4000 Miles.