We don’t agree on what the play is about, and that’s only the beginning! K. raves over Butler at Northlight while Jonathan recommends The Matchmaker (the proto-Hello, Dolly) at the Goodman.
Space on the mainstage of an Equity theater in Chicago is a scarce resource; so when a single playwright gets two such opportunities within one four-month period it’s reasonable to ask, “What’s the big deal about Amy Herzog?”
There’s no question she’s considered a big deal in New York: her play 4000 Miles, now at Northlight, had its world premiere at Lincoln Center and was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize, while Belleville (onstage earlier this year at Steppenwolf) received a pair of Drama Desk nominations for its inaugural production at the well-respected New York Theatre Workshop. But after having seen both plays, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.
Herzog has a fine ear for the over-analytical therapy-speak of privileged young people and is especially good at portraying them getting stoned with unlikely companions—their grandmother, say, or their Afro-French landlord. And she also has a knack for creating fish-out-of-water situations: the bride in Belleville whose lifelong ambition to go to Paris reveals itself as an albatross when she ends up living there, or the “mountain man” protagonist of 4000 Miles, who brings his crunchy-granola Seattle sensibility to his grandmother’s Greenwich Village rent-controlled apartment.
But then there’s the little task of making something happen in these situations. What happens in Belleville is predictable from the get-go, while what happens in 4000 Miles is pretty much nothing. Young Leo has cycled cross-country, experiencing the death of his friend and riding companion en route; but has he come to New York to reconcile with his girlfriend, to hide out and recover behind the skirts of his grandma, or to escape his family’s disapproval of his not-quite-avowed desire to sleep with his [adopted] sister? We don’t know at the beginning and we still don’t know at the end, because the play actually doesn’t end—it just stops.
Fine performances from all concerned—particularly Mary Ann Thebus as the grandmother—and individual scenes sensitively directed by Kimberly Senior can’t turn this series of sketches of life among the parlor pinks into a play.
Note: the Dueling Critics both had reservations about Belleville; this review of 4000 Miles is by Kelly alone.