Melbourne director Mark Pritchard makes his Red Stitch directorial debut next week helming 4000 Miles, an Australian premiere by acclaimed American playwright Amy Herzog. The play focuses on the relationship between Vera (veteran actor and Red Stitch guest Julia Blake), a 91-year-old Jewish communist, and Leo (Tim Ross), her 21-year old grandson, as the pair attempt to live together in her New York apartment.
“Its a wonderful piece of writing to be debuting with – sharp, probing, warm without being naive. It’s an incredibly intimate portrait of a fascinating woman in the final years of her life, and as I read it I realised how little I know about my own grandmother. So I connected with Leo, the young anarchist at the heart of the play, as he reconnects with his grandmother as if for the first time,” Pritchard told the Star Observer.
“As a queer guy in my 20s I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about what a family looks like and what’s holding us back as a society when it comes to embracing the changing nature of the family.”
The premise of the play – a young grandson and his elderly grandmother thrust together in close confines – could read as ‘just’ another odd couple comedy, but Pritchard said Herzog never goes for easy laughs.
“The play is hilarious in that dry New York no-bullshit style. Amy Herzog is clearly a lefty with a real irreverence in her love for her family, and she’s interested in taboos within family relationships, so the funniest points of this play are actually when we hit those danger zones. The humour… reveals the instability of family in a culture where everyone’s trained to look after themselves.”
Although Pritchard said he didn’t consider Herzog was trying to impart a message to audiences about the way we interact with older generations (“A message? Gross!”), he said 4000 Miles definitely stirred up some confronting issues around aging.
“[It looks at] what our society does when we get old – once you stop buying iPhones you’ll be put out to pasture, and that’s definitely a contemporary cruelty that we’ve allowed to happen. I work with a Thai migrant woman, and she’s continually horrified by the way we treat older people in this country. She’s here working her hands to the bone to send money back to support her aging parents, while we’re trying to avoid ours at Christmas without getting kicked out of the will.”
On the contrary, Pritchard revealed he was entirely smitten with his older leading lady.
“The most surprising aspect of the collaboration has for me been how hungry [Julia Blake] is, how curious. Julia isn’t just chalking up another notch on her belt, she is infatuated with the play and wants to leave no stone unturned.
“I’m never working with anyone else ever again!”