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Grand Horizons
I want a divorce — Nancy
Grand Horizons
Jane Alexsnder and James Cromwell (Photo: Joan Marcus)
The program note by Second Stage Theater's Artistic Director Carole Rothman might appear to some to be an apology if read following the performance, we do learn, however, that Grand Horizons is "the only original new play written by a woman on Broadway this season." It is also the third play produced by this company written by Bess Wohl: the others being American Hero and Make Believe . From my perspective, it is vastly inferior to those extremely promising plays.

To call Grand Horizons the saddest comedy I've seen in long time is giving it more credit than it deserves. But it does have a superior cast of actors who, under the direction of Leigh Silverman, appear committed to bravely navigating their way through the thoroughly dispiriting plot's grievously sit-com-ish convolutions.

The play begins and remains within a retirement community called Grand Horizons . In their nicely appointed home (designed by Clint Ramos) where non verbal communication has apparently become the guiding principal for God knows how long, Nancy (Jane Alexander) announces to her husband Bill (James Cromwell) quite dispassionately and without a blink at the dinner table "I want a divorce." He blithely agrees. No fireworks, no histrionics, no nothing to rock the ever enlarging empty space that has presumably become the cornerstone of their fifty years of marriage.

The only ones disturbed and disrupted by their mutually agreed upon decision to separate are their children who descend upon them in various states of panic and shock. The older son Ben (Ben McKenzie) is notable for being straight and married to Jess an Asian woman (Ashley Park) who is notably pregnant.

The younger son is Brian (Michael Urie) who is gay, single and teaches theater arts. He is defined as big hearted but the most needy and emotionally immature. This gives him license to make us laugh during the course of the ensuing shenanigans, all of which are more strained than funny. Their collective mission is to find out why Nancy and Bill are calling it quits and help repair the damage. It quickly becomes apparent that they are more concerned on how this sudden turn of events impacts upon them.

Nancy and Bill are not a very interesting either separately or as a couple, although during their mostly disengaging discourses over two acts, Nancy's sexual proclivities will surface as will Bill's. If one is inclined to be shocked and thereby amused by potty mouth humor and the disclosures of intimacies that have long since become banal, even to the most adventurous amongst us, there then may be some reason for us to consider why this marriage has become dissolute and presumably unsalvageable.

Alexander, whose long and laudable career insured her induction into the Theater Hall of Fame, keeps Nancy's desultory disclosures from sounding too offensive. Cromwell, whose distinguished credits over the years give him license to stray into dramatic situations of questionable merit, rises dutifully to the occasion. Bill sees himself as the retirement community's stand-up comic — that is when he isn't preoccupied by his hanky-panky with Carla (the ever wonderful Priscilla Lopez), the community's lusty widow. A few minutes of his stand-up routine. . .well, I'll be kind.

There are few young actors today who can compete with the finesse and funnily considered characterizations that make Urie's performance once again the cause for any appreciative awe. An intended middle-of-the-night tryst with Tommy (Maulik Pancholy), an over eager young Indian he smuggles into the house, starts out funnily enough but it ends like the play. . .without a logical perspective satisfying resolve, vor any reasonable resonance in it of real people in real life.

Yes, the play is purportedly about the stagnation of a marriage, the pitfalls within a relationship that can allow it to go sour and the bittersweet rewards of children who are not able or willing to see their parents as adults. What we actually get (with apologies to Pirandello) are actors as characters in search of a play. Someone is bound to tell me that I didn't get it. I sure didn't .

This is not part of the review, but has anyone not noticed or commented on just how ugly and distracting is the refurbished interior of the Helen Hayes Theater. What were they thinking?

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Grand Horizons by Bess Wohl
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Cast: Jane Alexander (Nancy), James Cromwell (Bill), Priscilla Lopez (Carla), Ben McKenzie (Ben), Maulik Pancholy (Tommy), Ashley Park (Jess), Michael Urie (Brian)
Scenic Design: Clint Ramos
Costume Design: Linda Cho
Lighting Design: Jen Schriever
Sound Design: Palmer Hefferan
Projection Design: Bryce Cutler
PSM: Melanie J. Lisby
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Second Stage's Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th St.
From 12/2020 Opened 01/23/20 Ends 03/01/20
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 01/21/20

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