New York City Theater
Helen Hayes Theater
Bess Wohl’s cheerful, vigorous new play, “Grand Horizons” has a lot on its mind. True, it trades in humor that would be at home in TV sitcom territory with its tale of a dysfunctional family in which everyone is a comedian. But also true, it says several pertinent things about marriage, parent-child relationships and, of course, love. The Second Stage production is also slickly acted and directed on an attractive, purposely generic set.
It begins with a bang. A couple, Nancy (Jane Alexander) and Bill (James Cromwell) in a 50-year marriage are having dinner in a nondescript, cookie-cutter house in Grand Horizons, a senior retirement community. It’s a silent ritual: she cooks, he sets the table; she serves, he arranges her back pillow, they drink lemonade at the same instant. Then . . . she breaks the silence with “I think I would like a divorce”; he answers, “All right.”
And from there, fireworks. Their two sons descend. The older, Ben (Ben McKenzie), arrives with his pregnant wife, Jess (Ashley Park).The younger, Brian (Michael Urie), is gay. Neither wants to know the down-and-dirty details of their parents’ lives, especially not their sex lives. (“Children don’t care if their parents are happy,” says Nancy.)
Was mom really in love and had an affair with a past boyfriend? Does dad really have a girlfriend, a neighbor, Carla (Priscilla Lopez)? “Anyway,” says son Ben, “I’m not even talking about love. I’m talking about marriage.” For Nancy, however, “marriage is a contract to be tied to each other’s stupidity. But I don’t think that’s what love ought to be.”
Ironically, both sons also have relationship problems, Ben with his therapist wife, Brian with a pickup. Named Tommy (Maulik Pancholy), the pickup, when confronted with the troubled Brian, definitely does not want to be his therapist.
Leigh Silverman’s direction is sprightly, favoring the play’s more comedic moments, resisting going too heavy on the “message.” Alexander is elegant, perceptive and commanding in her search for both independence and recognition, with Cromwell a sour and spiky antagonist. McKenzie plays Ben as haplessly lost, flailing in his desire to understand the situation, while the funny, flamboyant Urie is the opposite, understanding all too well though not really wanting to know. Pancholy is aggressive, while Lopez is wonderful as a pragmatic, centered woman. The scenes between Alexander and Urie, then Alexander and Lopez are highlights.
On Clint Ramos’ uncluttered set, with its safety bars and alarm switches, the bright “Grand Horizons” is a search for, “the truth that shall make us free.” Only then can there be a forward march to an uncertain future in an unsafe world.
--David A. Rosenberg
Feb. 11, 2020