REVIEW: In Fuse Productions’ ‘4,000 Miles,’ long journey brings love, understanding to grandmother-grandson relationship

James McCready, as Leo, and Helen Manfull, as Vera, both say that they could relate to their characters in Fuse Productions’ “4,000 Miles.”
James McCready, as Leo, and Helen Manfull, as Vera, both say that they could relate to their characters in Fuse Productions’ “4,000 Miles.” Photo provided

State College residents of varying generations gathered on a frigid winter evening Thursday at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center for the first production of Fuse Productions’ “4,000 Miles.”

Starring Helen Manfull as Vera and James McCready as Leo, “4,000 Miles” tells the story about two people from different generations who come to appreciate and understand each other. It’s about change and growth, no matter the age. As in this story, sometimes a person younger or older can help you see things in a different light and give you a little more perspective on life.

It’s September 2007, and Leo, a free spirit and a lost soul, is running away from something. He arrives at his grandmother Vera’s apartment in Greenwich Village after biking his way there from Minnesota. He is estranged from his mother, who is undergoing therapy. He is still very close to his sister, Lily, but an awkward situation between the two of them has made their relationship somewhat uncomfortable.

Leo and Vera’s “reunion” takes place over the course of a month, as Leo stays with his grandmother longer than he anticipated. Leo’s relationships with the people in his life have become strained. His “sort of” girlfriend, Bec, comes to visit him, but their conversations are filled with nothing but bitterness, anger and resentment. So as the drama unfolds, it becomes apparent that Leo has been running from an assortment of problems.

Late one night, Leo opens up to his grandmother about the tragic loss of his friend, who was traveling with him. Though she is hard of hearing, Vera knows and understands what Leo is saying to her, and she comforts her grandson. Leo tells his grandmother he hopes to pursue a job in Colorado, but she convinces him to first return to St. Paul to spend time with his family. The grandmother and grandson are no longer 4,000 miles apart, but both are now stronger for the time they have spent together.

In a recent interview McCready said Manfull’s Vera reminds him of his own grandmother, who passed away several years ago. This likely make the process easier and more authentic for both actors to perform their respective roles, as the familial chemistry between the two was apparent. A gamut of emotions — frustration, sadness, delight — were brought to the surface through their characters.

I — as others, surely — could see myself in the same situation as Leo. He wanted to spend time with his grandmother because he didn’t know how much longer she would be around. He wanted to take advantage of the time they have left together. She forgets certain things, words sometimes escape her, and she can be a little too nosy at times. All of these things can be frustrating and maybe even a little infuriating. But there is a love there that comes out of all that — a love and an understanding that you can’t get from anyone else.

“4,000 Miles” helpd me realize that life is too precious to waste one single day. Visit your loved ones and spend time with them, because you don’t know when that day will come when they are no longer there to talk to you and help you with your problems. Listen to their stories and take their advice, and appreciate and respect them for all they have done for you. These are lessons that I have learned in recent years, and my hope is that for those who have the opportunity to see this heart-warming drama, they will learn these life lessons as well.