DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: It’s time to listen

YOUNG LEO UNBURDENS himself — revealing a shocking event — while seated on the couch with Vera. She only catches some of it, though. Her hearing aids aren’t on.

Yet in “4000 Miles,” a Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, Leo and Vera, his grandmother, stick together long enough to fully hear each other. For the pair, both fed up with electronic communication, presence heals.

Their story begins with Leo’s 3 a.m. arrival on his grandma’s Manhattan doorstep. He’s bicycled from Seattle and is a groovy guy — “Want a hug from a hippie?” — while she’s a stiletto-sharp widow whose place is lined with books and LP records. Playwright Amy Herzog, with actors Brenda Robins as Vera and Nathan Howe as Leo, take us by the hand toward rapprochement.

Before I tell you where “4000 Miles” is playing, I want to say I’m all for local theater performances. The North Olympic Peninsula is rich in theater companies, from the Port Angeles Community Players and Sequim’s Olympic Theatre Arts to Key City Public Theatre in Port Townsend. Our local high school productions also rock it on the regular.

So after you’ve enjoyed a show at a theater near you, consider the Belfry in Victoria, B.C. “4000 Miles,” like many of our local productions, hosts “afterplay” discussions. This Thursday is Talkback Thursday with the actors after the 7:30 p.m. show, while facilitated audience conversations follow the rest of the evening performances.

And here’s a nice touch: The Belfry’s “Upstage” magazine, “to help you get even more out of our production of ‘4000 Miles,’ ” has a list of suggested books and videos including Wallace Stegner’s “Crossing to Safety,” Bruce Weber’s “Life Is a Wheel,” the 2017 movie “Lucky” and Mary Oliver’s “Devotions.”

The old theater, accessible by public transit from downtown Victoria, has matinees and evening shows Tuesdays through Sundays through May 5. And get this: The Belfry offers free child care at 2 p.m. this Sunday and at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 4. Information awaits at www.belfry.bc.ca.

I connected with both Leo and Vera — a testament to Herzog’s skills as an empathic writer. That’s what this story is about empathy laced with humor.

Vera has trouble with her balance and with thinking of the right words in conversation. When Leo asks whether she’s had a doctor check that out, she says yes, of course; “They tell me I’m old. And I knew that already.”

Leo reads a political essay his late grandfather Joe wrote about Cuba, and marvels at its uncynical tone. It’s water in the desert for one born into this uber-cynical era.

Also touching is the appearance by Leo’s ex-girlfriend Bec, played by Lucy McNulty. They get the verbal wrangling out of the way, and then she affirms his attempts to recover from the trauma that befell him on the bike trip.

When cyclists cross the country, it’s traditional to dip the back tire in the Pacific and then, upon East Coast arrival, roll the front tire into the Atlantic Ocean. Bec, studying anthropology in college, encourages Leo to follow through. Every culture has rituals, she says, because they work.

What are our rituals? My husband Phil and I read the newspaper each morning — different sections — and reconvene to solve the crossword. I’m thinking we could use some others.

When I asked what he felt is the message of “4000 Miles,” Phil boiled it down quick.

“If you want to build a relationship,” Phil said, “you gotta listen.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be May 1.

Reach her at Creodepaz@yahoo.com.

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