The actor and director best known for his affinity for humor is directing “4000 Miles,” which opens Jan. 13 at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.
“It’s not a slapstick comedy,” said Schnell.
“4000 Miles,” though, is billed as a dramatic comedy, so it won’t be a major change for Schnell, who directed the drama “Tribute” at the Rep in 2015, and was seen as the title character in “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” last fall at Absolute Theatre.
Playwright Amy Herzog has said that “4000 Miles” is the second part of what will be a trilogy. So why didn’t the Rep stage the first part?
“When I first saw this (“4000 Miles”) there was no mention of it being a trilogy,” Schnell said. “But you don’t have to see one to enjoy the other.”
The play is about the relationship between 21-year-old Leo, who suffers the sudden death of a friend while on a cross-country bicycle trip, and his 91-year-old grandmother, Vera, a former communist. The play was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Schnell has cast Jake Dreher as Leo, with Kathy Keech as Vera. Keech, of course, is not anywhere near 91 years old. But, said Schnell, “When she came to the audition, she already had the character — the voice, the walk.”
Also in the play are Jessica Schuler, as Bec, Leo’s girlfriend, and Alicia Frarck, as Amanda, a girl he picks up and brings home.
The politics in the play take back a seat to family dynamics and drama, Schnell said. “I don’t think it will touch anybody the wrong way,” he said.
Two additional tidbits about the play: Leo, as written, is from St. Paul. And Herzog’s grandfather wrote the song “God Bless the Child” for Billie Holiday. As a result, Schnell plans to have Holiday’s music incorporated into the show.
Jan. 13 through Jan. 29. Performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Jan. 29.
Rochester Repertory Theatre, 103 Seventh St. NE
$22 adults, $20 for senior citizens and students ($18 on Thursdays); 507-289-1737, and at rochesterrep.org.