Theatre Review by Howard Miller - January 23, 2020
Grand Horizons by Bess Wohl. Directed by Leigh Silverman. Scenic design by Clint Ramos. Costume design by Linda Cho. Lighting design by Jen Schriever. Sound design by Palmer Hefferan. Projection design by Bryce Cutler. Dramaturg Sarah Lunnie. Cast: Jane Alexander, James Cromwell, Priscilla Lopez, Ben McKenzie, Maulik Pancholy, Ashley Park, and Michael Urie.
The play is often quite funny in the way that a well-written sitcom can be, but a thick layer of jokes and punchlines cannot cover up the fact that there is little of credible substance here. This is true despite the occasional flare-up of a touchingly honest moment, and the fact that the central performances of a long-married couple on the verge of a breakup are played as persuasively as possible by a pair of accomplished veterans, Jane Alexander and James Cromwell.
Grand Horizons, whose title refers to a community of senior tract housing where it takes place, starts off in silence. Nancy (Ms. Alexander) and Bill (Mr. Cromwell) are engaged in a well-honed passive-aggressive dance as they prepare their dinner. He fills the glasses and puts them on the table; she comes around and rearranges them. She salts his food; he sneaks extra salt into his hand and then dumps it over his meal. All this goes on for a few minutes, until Nancy finally speaks up: "I think I would like a divorce." Bill's response: a calmly delivered "All right."
It does make for a perfect set-up to the inevitable who, what, where, when, and why that follow. It could make for a nice two-character play, but it has been extended to include the couple's grown children, their emotionally distraught gay son Brian (Michael Urie) and his steadier, more pragmatic older brother Ben (Ben McKenzie), along with Ben's pregnant wife Jess (Ashley Park, who has been given entirely too little to do). The younger generation bring their own relationship problems with them, but mostly they try to focus on dissuading the parents from walking out on a marriage of 50 years.
To get to this point, however, there are a lot of distractions along the way, including an interlude between Brian and a sexual pickup (Maulik Pancholy) he brings to the house late one night, and a visit from Carla, Bill's "floozy girlfriend" (apparently she and Bill sext one another). Carla is played by Priscilla Lopez, who single-handedly brightens up the proceedings with her exquisite comic timing until she exits much too soon. We also get to sit through Nancy's detailed description to her son Brian of a long-ago sexual experience. It's a lovely piece of writing that allows a woman to reclaim the word "pussy" from its current ugly politicized usage, but you can decide for yourself whether you think this is a likely mother-to-son topic of conversation.
All told, Grand Horizons sacrifices what could be a serious examination of an aging couple in a crumbling marriage in order to set up some admittedly funny lines and situations. It also stretches things out unnecessarily by bringing in extraneous or, at least, underdeveloped characters. It makes me wonder if we might be seeing a promo or pilot for a television sitcom in which we might, over time, get to see the play's central theme explored in greater depth. For now, however, the enterprise is wading in very shallow waters.