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Rites of passage

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

In today’s day and age, it’s more difficult than ever for the young to receive the rites of passage they need from their elders.

Mickey Dolan and Suzanne Lederer star in the New Mexico Actors Lab production of “4000 Miles.” Shows begin on Thursday. (Courtesy of Robert Benedetti)

Local theater director Robert Benedetti remembers growing up when nearly every home in his neighborhood was a tri-generational one; the grandparents lived in the household with the family. That’s something he noted isn’t as common today as it was decades ago.

“It’s tough for young people not to have exposure and guidance to the older generation, and it’s really tough on the older generation not to have the influence and energy of young people around,” said Benedetti.

That concept of an intergenerational story about growing up is what attracted Benedetti, founder of the New Mexico Actors Lab, to the award-winning “4,000 Miles.” In Amy Herzog’s dramedy, inspired by members of her own family, a lost 21-year-old seeks solace in his grandmother’s Manhattan apartment in the wake of tragedy, and along the way finds himself. NMAL will stage the show starting Thursday.

“4,000 Miles” was a 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist, won an Off-Broadway Theater Award, or Obie, in 2012, and was named by Time Magazine the best American play of that year.

“It has had some major productions, but it hasn’t been done as much as I believe it deserves to be done,” Benedetti said. “So I’m glad we’re doing it.”

The show centers around the relationship between Leo and his 91-year-old grandmother, Vera, once a “rabblerouser” who back in the day was a staunch political activist alongside her now-late husband. In the middle of the night, Leo appears at Vera’s door looking for a place to stay. He has been on a cross-country cycling trip with his best friend, but a tragic accident that occurred on the way to the East Coast has left him adrift.

“At the beginning, he’s super naive,” said Mickey Dolan, the local actor playing Leo. “He’s young, so he thinks he’s on top of the world. I’ve got experience of that thinking I’m the center of the world. I don’t know, I think that’s, like, a young thing.”

As Leo matures through Vera’s guidance, he learn to deals with loss, both in the form of his best friend’s death and the ending of his long-term relationship. But Vera also has to do the same, to cope with the loss of friends and her husband, who had passed 10 years prior, and eventually she has to confront that fact that her grandson will need to go out on his own. During the show, both of their abilities to do this is tested.

“Even at her age, (Vera) has to learn how to go on and continue being an adult, so that she can hold on to her own personal reality,” said Suzanne Lederer, who plays the grandmother in NMAL’s production.

Though it deals with heavy topics, Benedetti described the show as having a comedic, “All in the Family”-esque tone. Lederer described Vera as a classic New York City, spunky matriarch.

“Anybody who’s had a grandmother, an aunt who stands up for herself and speaks her mind, recognizes this character,” said Lederer. “I don’t care if you’re from New York or any place, there’s someone in your family who behaves like Vera. And if you have a grandma who is outspoken and tells everyone ‘This is the way it is, this is what I think,’ and ‘You’re not taking care of yourself and you should eat before anybody else,’ then you will recognize this personality.”

“4,000 Miles” also stars Robyn Rikoon and Alyssa Bonnano. Shows will run Thursdays-Sundays until Aug. 25.

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