The praise for Herzog’s emergence has been striking. “No one currently writing for the theater has a sharper grasp of character, or more sheer storytelling technique,” Time magazine declared last month.
That was on the occasion of “Belleville,” an unexpected thriller about a young American couple falling apart in Paris. (Its near-sellout run ends Sunday at New York Theatre Workshop.) That followed the recent extended engagement at Playwrights Horizons of “The Great God Pan,” in which a man grapples with the sudden suggestion that he was sexually abused as a child.
Amid this flurry, Herzog, 34, pinpoints the move of “4000 Miles” from a small 42nd Street space to the Lincoln Center as the breakthrough moment.
“It was suddenly a really big jump careerwise,” Herzog says by phone from her home in Brooklyn.
She is married to the in-demand director Sam Gold (the couple has an 11-month-old daughter). They choose not to work together professionally, which is an interesting line to draw, given that Herzog often blurs the boundaries between art and actual family history.
The overlap is so pronounced that last spring the New York Times interviewed Herzog with her grandmother, Leepee Joseph, who was then 95. Leepee Joseph was the blatant basis for the grandmother, her name slightly altered to Vera Joseph, in both “After the Revolution” and the subsequent “4000 Miles.”
Herzog’s biographical data is all over “4000 Miles,” from the fervent 1940s-1950s communism still espoused by Vera to the cross-country bike trip that Vera’s grandson Leo unexpectedly finishes at her Manhattan apartment in the middle of the night. Herzog once braved such a ride herself, and the bike that appeared onstage in the New York production was hers.
“After the Revolution” is even more saturated with Herzog’s family drama. The play concerns a bright young woman poised to carry her well-known family’s proud liberal torch, until she learns that her grandfather was not merely an American socialist but a Soviet spy.
It’s true: Herzog’s real grandfather passed secrets to the reds. (For details, Google the Venona project, which became public knowledge in the 1990s.)
“That caused some major ripples in my family,” Herzog says. “It only occurred to me later, maybe 2006 or 2007, that there might be a play in it. I had an inchoate sense of disappointment, or maybe embarrassment, that I had this pride that had gone unexamined.”