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The Huffington Post
By: Patrick Pacheco
Published: April 16, 2012
Amy Herzog, a promising young American playwright, is pregnant and due to give birth to a daughter on May 1 of this year. The date has more than a little significance, given that it is a high holiday among a vanishing political breed: communists. Though the 33-year-old writer doesn't share the ideology, it is a deep vein coursing through her family and one that she has tapped in her work.
In After the Revolution, the 2010 play that first brought her acclaim, she tackled the rifts which developed in her family when, in 1999, it was revealed that Joe Joseph, her paternal stepgrandfather, had shared government secrets with the Soviets during World War II. In her latest play, 4000 Miles, the lead character is 91-year-old Vera Joseph, who proudly carries the Socialist torch of her late husband. If it appears to be a lost cause, she is unaware of it. Her querulousness is reserved for her irritating neighbors in her Greenwich Village apartment building and, occasionally, for her guiltstricken grandson, who has suddenly descended upon her after biking across country.
"Plays as truthful and touching and fine as 4,000 Miles come along once or maybe twice a season," wrote Charles Isherwood in the New York Times of Herzog's semi-autobiographical work. "This is the rare theatrical production that achieves perfection on its own terms."
Vera, in fact, is based on Leepee Joseph, the playwright's 95-year-old grandmother who, like her doppelganger, lives in the Village (a character based on Leepee also made a brief appearance in After the Revolution).
While the Josephs are a source of fascination to the Yale-educated playwright, her biological paternal grandfather is no slouch either. He is Arthur Herzog, a writer and lyricist best known as having co-authored, with Billie Holiday, "God Bless the Child." "He was a philanderer who went on to marry three more times after he divorced my grandmother," says Herzog, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, director Sam Gold (Seminar, Look Back in Anger). Though the playwright laughingly referred to having "pregnancy brain," she recently spoke with ARTINFO eloquently - and astringently - of her family's firebrand socialist legacy and how it has influenced her own world view.
What form did their political activism take in this country?
They were huge supporters of the Civil Rights movements and it was a huge source of pride that my father and uncles were involved in registering voters. But as much as they were avid supporters, there was this overarching ideology that class struggle was the first and most important struggle and everything else came under the rubric of a bourgeois cause. They would often boast of how much more racial equality there was in the Soviet Union than in the United States, probably a claim that is not so easy to support now.
Do you envy that passion and total commitment expressed in that generation?
I did and I do feel envy. And more than envy, I feel really puzzled. I don't understand why I'm not more driven to be fighting for social change and I probably need to take more personal responsibility about it. I always put it in terms of my generation. But really, I could do something. What's puzzling to me, my grandmother and I are so close, that if we'd met at the same age, if I'd been around then, I imagine that I would have been swept up by the same things that she was swept up by.
Does Leepee's faith in Communism remain undiminished?
"Undiminished." What an interesting word to think of in terms of her life right now when I know that, at 95, she feels like she's losing things constantly. Yes. I would say it's undiminished except that she isn't able at this point to have the kind of active engagement with it that would reinforce it. I believe that she holds all of the same views that she held 20 or 70 years ago. The one thing she's changed her mind about is that she used to believe that homosexuality was a mental illness, and she has come around to completely accepting it as a normal part of the course of human events.
I believe you mentioned that you have one more play in you about your family. What dictates your ethical approach to what you will and will not divulge about them?
It entails a lot of communication so they know what's going on. My grandfather's name was already in print but I did have some real anxiety about naming his name in writing the play about him. In terms of the living members, I am inspired by what I've witnessed, but what I write ultimately ends being a work of fiction. And I try to not to talk about what's true and what's not in order to protect their privacy. So far it's worked. Nobody's disowned me.
By: Jake Fruend, Assistant Dramaturg
The Millennial generation (born, roughly, between 1982-1999) is a difficult one to pin down. Sociologists are almost equally divided between two schools of thought when it comes to defining the biggest generation since the Baby Boomers...
In one corner, we have those who firmly believe that the Millennial generation is the most service-oriented bunch since The Greatest Generation (of which Vera is a member). The bonds between The Greatest Generation and Millennials are many, and mostly emotional/philosophical in nature. Millennials are, on the whole, socially conservative (rates of teen pregnancy, early sexual intercourse, alcohol abuse, and youth crime have continued to drop), and tend to identify with their octogenarian peers, as current social and political landscapes begin to mirror events 70 years ago. Millennials are typically quick to identify their grandparents as “cool.”
In the other corner, we’re confronted with a harsher reality. One that insists that while the morals of Millennials seem to be more clearly defined, their stance have little to do with its effect on others. Millennials are, in this sense, purely selfish (as they’ve been the home of “The Hipster,” this observation makes perfect sense). According to a number of far-reaching studies, Millennials are less likely to even think about social problems, be interested in politics and government, to contact public officials, or work for a political campaign. They were less likely to say they did things in their daily lives to conserve energy, or that they wanted a job that was helpful to others or was worthwhile to society.
By: Ian Stuart Hamilton
Published: January 2, 2013
Dramturg's Note: We don’t hear much about Vera’s parents or for how long they lived, but we are treated to a number of descriptions of what it’s like to be old from Ms. Joseph herself. Her key word: “disgusting.” For many people Vera’s age, this time of their life is completely uncharted. It’s likely that they’ve lived longer than their parents, and are now occupying an unknown portion of life, previously unexplored by their gene pool. This article touches on our greatly increased life expectancy, and presents us with a handy list of problems that await us post-seventies.
One of the most misunderstood statistical figures is life expectancy. We hear the phrase bandied about as a marker of how long we can expect to live. Today, we can feel very smug, as on a worldwide basis, we now live longer than ever before. I won’t bore you with a mass of data, but suffice to say that a baby born today has a life expectancy in the eighties. In comparison, a baby born in the mid-19th century had a life expectancy in the fifties.
The most naïve mistake a person can make is to assume that ‘life expectancy’ is the age at which you die, but this is incorrect. One definition of life expectancy is that it is the age at which half the people born in the same year will have died. Life expectancy says nothing about how long an individual person will live. They could be in the 50% who die before life expectancy is reached, or the 50% who live longer. Another definition of life expectancy is that it is the average length of time a person can expect to continue living. Again, this tells us little about an individual, since some people will live shorter than the average length, some longer than the average length. But one thing is clear – life expectancy does not set an upper limit on how long you will live. It is important to stress this because people sometimes hold the quaint belief that in historical times, there were no old people. There were, but they were simply rarer than they are today.
In industrialized countries, for the first time in history, the majority of the population can expect to reach old age. In many countries, older people outnumber children and teenagers. And developing nations are rapidly catching up: with the exception of countries with severe HIV problems, the life expectancy figures are rising much faster than in industrialized countries, and will eventually catch up.
The principal reason for our increased life expectancy is very simple – we don’t die young. This sounds a very stupid thing to say, but it’s accurate. The reason why there are a lot more people living into old age is because a lot more of them do not die in the first few years of life from what used to be killer diseases such as measles, whooping cough and similar. In part this is because of mass vaccination, but increased standards of public sanitation, better housing, better nutrition, etc, also have played a major role. Bear in mind that in historical times, 50% of infants died before they were five years old. This same figure still holds for parts of the developing world.
Because more people survive childhood and what used to be the riskiest time for our health, more people will live long enough to reach old age. Indeed, the longer you live, the less the modern world can help your continued survival. This can be neatly demonstrated by looking at historical differences in life expectancy at different ages. A baby born today has a life expectancy of three decades more than one born two hundred years ago. But if you consider someone aged sixty today versus someone aged sixty in 1813, the difference in remaining life expectancy is down to about seven years. Okay, seven years is still a meaningful figure, but it is a lot smaller than thirty years. And as people get older still, the historical difference in remaining life expectancy drops and drops.
Why should this matter? After all, our life expectancy is not affected by how long our forebears could expect to live. This is perfectly true, but that is not why I presented these figures. As stated above, what the data tell us is that as we get older, the less the modern world can do to keep us alive. Modern living and medical care have removed a lot of the danger from early life, but they have not done the same to later life, or the historical differences in remaining life expectancy would stay constant and not diminish. Instead, what we find is that having failed to claim us in early life, debilitating and deadly illnesses have waited patiently and now claim us in later life instead. Thus, we enter old age only to be confronted by arthritis, rheumatism, respiratory problems, cardiovascular illness, cancer, dementia, Parkinsonism, and all the other lovely things that can make later life such fun.
Let’s take one specific psychological example. Researchers often talk about there being an ‘epidemic’ of dementia. This can give the impression that there are more cases of dementia per head of population than there were in the past. This is not so, but because the older population is increasing and dementia is omnipresent in the older population, the absolute number of cases of dementia is doomed to rise.
And here lies the problem. Who is going to care for the added number of cases, and how? As the older population increases, so the younger population diminishes in size. This means fewer adult children to care for parents, and with changes in work patterns, fewer stay at home women who traditionally were expected to assume the role of caregiver [please don’t flame me for sexism, I’m merely stating historical fact]. Placing older demented people in institutionalized care might not be the answer. Even in countries with a developed state welfare system, fewer younger people means fewer people working, and this means lower tax revenue to pay for welfare care. And that’s just dementia …
Governments and health authorities routinely bombard us with advice on healthy living – don’t smoke, regulate your drinking, take exercise, be careful of fatty foods, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, cut down on your caffeine, etc, etc. All no doubt sane advice, though (with tongue in cheek) it occurs to this cynic at least that over the past thirty years, the medical profession has done a brilliant psychological operation in persuading the general public that if they get ill with anything, it’s their own fault for their choice of lifestyle.
Be that as it may, all this advice is intended to get more of us into old age whilst being a lesser burden on the health services. But as more and more of us reach old age, what is going to happen then? Arguably, as governments and health authorities have done so much to encourage us to become old, it is their responsibility to look after us when we get there. But we all know that is not going to happen. Even something as relatively simple as mandatory pension provision seems beyond most governments. So instead, we need to prepare ourselves practically and mentally for later life far more than we do. As a new year’s resolution, I strongly urge all of you below retirement age to take a long hard look at how you will spend your later life. The deeper you put your head in the sand at that thought, the more you probably need to do it.
EMJOY GAVINO (Amanda) happily makes her Northlight Theatre debut. Recent Chicago credits: The Drunken City (The Garage at Steppenwolf), Failure: A Love Story (Victory Gardens), Seascape (Remy Bumppo), Hair (Paramount), Wait Until Dark (Court), Working (Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place), Christmas Carol (Goodman), Wilson Wants it All (The House Theatre of Chicago), Cooperstown (Theatre Seven of Chicago), Arabian Nights (Lookingglass), Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol (The Neo-Futurists), and is a proud company member and teaching artist with Barrel of Monkeys. Regional credits: The Violet Hour (Repertory Actors Theatre), Miss Saigon (5th Avenue Theatre), and Searching 4 Y (Village Theatre). Film/TV: Chicago Fire, Mob Doctor, Boss, and Freudian Slip. Emjoy is a graduate of the School at Steppenwolf, WP10.
CAROLINE NEFF (Bec) makes her debut at Northlight Theatre and she couldn't be more delighted. Other select Chicago credits include: Three Sisters (Steppenwolf); Annie Bosh is Missing, Where We're Born (The Garage at Steppenwolf); The Knowledge, The Receptionist, Under the Blue Sky, Pornography, A Brief History of Helen of Troy, Harper Regan, In Arabia We'd All Be Kings (Steep Theatre Company); Port, Stage Door, Be More Chill (Griffin); The Petrified Forest, St. Crispin's Day (Strawdog); Cherrywood, Saved (Mary-Arrchie); 25 Saints (Pine Box); The Metal Children (Next); Moonshiner (Jackalope). Film/TV credits: Older Children, Open Tables, and Chicago Fire. She is an ensemble member at Steep Theatre Company and holds her BA from Columbia College.
JOSH SALT (Leo Joseph-Connell) makes his first appearance at Northlight Theatre. He recently played Stag Lee in Yellow Moon (Writers) directed by Stuart Carden, and Tim in Teddy Ferrara (Goodman) directed by Evan Cabnet. This is his second time working with Kimberly Senior; the first was when he played Cripple Billy in The Cripple of Inishmaan (Redtwist). Other credits include Eric in Making Noise Quietly (Steep) directed by Erica Weiss, and Melchior Gabor in Spring Awakening (Griffin) directed by Jonathan Berry. He is a co-founder of a long-form dramatic improvisation ensemble called The Character Project. Thanks to Gray Talent, Carolyn Braver, and my family.
|MARY ANN THEBUS (Vera Joseph) is happy to be returning to Northlight Theatre where she was previously seen in Inherit the Wind and Cat Feet. She is a longtime Chicago actor first seen in 1981 in Close Ties (Victory Gardens). In the ensuing years she has frequently been seen on Chicago stages, most recently in Elizabeth Rex (Chicago Shakespeare), After the Revolution (Next), and Three Sisters (Steppenwolf). Last spring she co-directed the critically acclaimed Collected Stories at American Blues Theater with her daughter Jessica. She is a frequent Joseph Jefferson Award nominee, received the 2002 After Dark Award for Painting Churches (Organic Theater Company), and has been active in film and television shot locally such as Rudy, Cupid, and The Untouchables. She conducts a master class at The Artistic Home and coaches privately.|
by Amy Herzog
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Scenic Design Jack Magaw, USA
Costume Design Rachel Laritz, USA
Lighting Design Christine A. Binder, USA
Sound Design Christopher Kriz, USA
Production Dramaturg Kristin Leahey, Ph.D
Production Stage Manager Rita Vreeland, AEA
Production photos by Michael Brosilow.
Photo GalleryClick on any image to start the slideshow
Grandparent bonding without the warm fuzziness
September 23, 2013
By CHRIS JONES
Amy Herzog's refreshingly caustic but deeply compassionate "4000 Miles" might just be the play for you. Especially in the beautiful Northlight Theatre production forged by Kimberly Senior, and starring Mary Ann Thebus and Josh Salt.
... [T]hroughout this small, honest, 100-minute drama, you never doubt for a moment that these two characters need each other desperately. You might say that Herzog is writing unsentimentally about a very sentimental subject, which is ideal, really, for the better class of softy who goes to the theater.
It's funny. Some of us enjoy the chance for beautiful relationships across the generational divide and some of us, whether due to issues of health, geographic remove, familial dysfunction or sheer lateness of arrival into this world, do not. But no play I've seen has better understood what a grandparent and grandchild actually can do for one another, if they are given the chance.
'4000 Miles’ a theatrical journey worth taking
September 25, 2013
By HEDY WEISS
Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles,” now in the loveliest of productions at Northlight Theatre, is a beautifully observed play about an elderly woman who is still engaged, spirited, and fiercely trying hard to hold on to life, and her encounter with her early twentysomething grandson, a neo-hippie struggling to make sense of life, love, work and mortality ...
Vera Joseph (Mary Ann Thebus, in an altogether glorious portrayal that is spot-on in terms of its emotional and physical truth), is an independent-minded octogenarian living alone in the same roomy, rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment she has occupied for 40 years ...
In this intimate but universal story — one that belongs, above all, to Thebus — director Kimberly Senior makes everything flow easily but unpredictably. She and her cast find the truth in the casual mess of a cereal bowl, the visible relief of a hug.
4000 Miles at Northlight Theatre: Theater review
A young man takes refuge in his aged grandmother's Manhattan apartment in Amy Herzog's delicate, truthful character study.
September 23, 2013
By KRIS VIRE
You've likely known a Leo Joseph-Connell. And it's likely you couldn't stand him. As sharply illustrated in Amy Herzog's rich, small-scale 2011 work, Leo is a very recognizable type of modern 21-year-old: a privileged-progressive rich kid, the kind who refuses the offer of a banana out of responsibility for its carbon footprint, but refuses to take responsibility for his effect on the emotions of those who love him. Leo prides himself on his anti-consumerism in not owning a cell phone, yet thinks nothing of asking his 91-year-old grandmother to spot him 50 bucks to go to a rock-climbing gym.
... Yet for all of Leo's repugnant self-righteousness and blithe disregard for his ability to injure, Herzog doesn't sit in judgment of his behavior. Like the playwright, Josh Salt does a remarkable job of capturing his character's casual cruelty while still letting Leo's barely-hidden terror and sorrow show through enough to make us want better for him ...
There are no wrenching plot twists nor oversold sentimentality in Herzog's and Senior's delicate sketchwork, which also encompasses brief but lovely turns by Caroline Neff and Emjoy Gavino as two very different love interests for Leo. It never feels like we're being manipulated or that the playwright is pushing buttons; even a scene that sounds on paper like an easy joke—Leo and Granny get high together—comes across as organic and earned. There are no big lessons in 4000 Miles, just honest and moving portrayals of learning and growing.
Great cast helps Northlight's '4000 Miles' go the distance
★ ★ ★
September 26, 2013
By BARBARA VITELLO
Amy Herzog's "4000 Miles" sneaks up on you and doesn't let you go. A quiet, family drama about growing up, growing old and finding oneself, Herzog's 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist doesn't leave a big impression. Not at first, anyway.
Just as it did for Herzog's "Belleville," which ran this summer at Steppenwolf Theatre, my appreciation grew for this affecting (yet never schmaltzy) drama centered around 21-year-old Leo (Josh Salt, as a most amiable hipster), and his prickly, left-leaning grandmother Vera (deftly played by Mary Ann Thebus). Their brief, bothersome and occasionally embarrassing cohabitation animates the play, which unfolds in Vera's dated but cozy Greenwich Village apartment in the not-too-distant past.
The dialogue is refreshing and realistic. The characters are honest, imperfect and entirely relatable. But the best thing about "4000 Miles" is that it doesn't follow the intergenerational family drama formula, where the elder shares with her troubled grandson a lifetime of wisdom that transforms him into a content, productive man. Here, a character's revelations and confessions don't reverberate like thunderclaps. They're revealed quietly, almost as an afterthought, to a preoccupied listener who more often than not fails to grasp their importance.