Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
With a wild dive into one family’s love and marriage, Beth Wohl’s promising new play, Grand Horizons, makes its Broadway debut at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater. An accomplished cast explores a family relationship with poignancy and stabs of sit-com humor, unearthing staleness and random impulsiveness, wacky consequences and endurance.
The couple, Nancy, played decorously by Jane Alexander (The Great White Hope) and James Cromwell as cranky Bill (Babe), have been placidly wed for fifty years and recently moved to a senior community (Grand Horizons), offering comfortable sameness for their golden years.
Scenic designer Clint Ramos designed a tidy suburban row-house furnished with Bill's hefty, well-used recliner and the couple's sofa from their old place along with framed family photos and knick-knacks filling wall spaces.
For some, fifty years of marriage might call for celebration but in Nancy and Bill’s case, the years have offered more boredom than bliss. As they settle down at the kitchen table for another tedious dinner, Nancy breaks the silence, “I think I would like a divorce.”
Bill’s laconic reply. “All right.”
Nancy looks up at him, momentarily stunned, but they then proceed go on with the steps of separation.
Under the adoit direction of Leigh Silverman, the couple seems to handle their breakup smoothly enough. When their two grown sons learn about it, however, they see the breakup as a messy inconvenience to be mended so they can get back to their own lives. An intervention between family members is planned to hash things out.
In the process, the sons add more humor and pain than help. The sensible older son, a businessman named Ben (Ben McKenzie), is married and focused on his pregnant wife, Jess, and his upcoming commitments as a family provider. He tells his parents, “If you wanted to get divorced you should have done it after we went to college, like normal people."
Perky Jess (Ashley Park), a trained therapist, eagerly inserts her professional skills to get her in-laws to at least hold hands.
Ben’s younger gay brother, Brian (Michael Urie), considers himself the family emotional caretaker. He is a hyperbolic but dedicated school theater teacher, so sensitive that he cannot hurt the feelings of anyone auditioning for a part in his current school play, The Crucible., thus the cast is now burgeoning at 200.
While the interaction of parents and children is often hilarious, there is a diversity of both sadness and wackiness. Jane Alexander and James Cromwell never lapse far from the truth in their interpretations of parents who raised their family without sharing honesty and intimacy.
The lack of intimacy is the central problem of this dysfunctional family, until now. Nancy and Bill’s marriage was formulaic and at some point, Nancy realized that she never lived a life of her own choosing, never dined alone in a restaurant or even hadher own bank account. (This was not unusual with her generation. ) We have to wonder what provoked this sudden realization of marital discontent.
Now, intimacy soars through the family. Nancy tells her older son that Bill is having a close relationship with a neighbor named Carla, horrifying Ben by adding that the two are sexting.
Lopez played by Priscilla Lopez (A Chorus Line) is delightful as the easy-going, brightly dressed Carla, a contrast trom the crisp and dignified Nancy. Outspoken Carla joys in telling Nancy about the conveniences of her vibrator, “You just order them on the internet. Mine looks like an egg… It just tucks right in there.”
As for Brian, Urie stands out in one bittersweet scene when Nancy personally reveals that her first love has continued secretly for many years. Brian, his emotions on the edge, veers toward a full-blown panic attack, covering his ears, eyes tearing up, trying not to picture his mother in an intimate sexual moment. (Such a private revelation by mother to son seems implausible).
Despite some drawn-out segments that can benefit from editing, playwright Beth Wohl, succeeds in exploring one’s personal identity within a family life as well as struggling through the differences between marriage and love.
Second Stage - Helen Hayes Theatre
240 - West 44th Street. NYC
Previews: Dec. 27, 2019. Opening: Jan. 23, 2020. Closing: March 15, 2020
Running Time: Two hours, 15 min. One intermission.
Cast: Priscilla Lopez, Maulik Pancholy, Ashley Park and Michael Urie
Playwright: Bess Wohl
Directed: Leigh Silverman
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors, January 2020
This review also appears in TotalTheater.com