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Broadway review by Adam Feldman
In the dining area of their house in an independent-living community for seniors, a house that looks like every other house in the neighborhood, Nancy (a splendid Jane Alexander) and Bill (James Cromwell) enact a dinner routine that seems almost like a ritual. It’s familiar and formal—the napkins have rings—and it’s utterly quiet, as though after 50 years of marriage these two had nothing left to tell one another. It is Nancy who breaks the tacit bond of silence. “I think I would like a divorce,” she says politely. “All right,” he replies, and goes on eating.
It’s all very civil, but from this point forward, nothing in Bess Wohl’s entertainingly broad comedy Grand Horizons will be so quiet again. The couple’s adult children—gay schoolteacher Brian (Michael Urie) and harried lawyer Ben (Ben McKenzie), plus Ben’s very pregnant wife, Jess (Ashley Park)—try to put a stop to what seems to them an act of foolishness if not outright dementia. (“Adults cannot do what they want,” says Brian. “The defining feature of adulthood is that you never get to do what you want.”) But Nancy is determined to follow through on her plan, and the dour Bill seems fine with it—even if, as he says, “I would have just slogged it out.” The humor rises from tense to outrageous, peaking in a first-act finale that is dramatically off-the-wall.
Once a staple of Broadway, original comedies are scarce these days. The crowd-pleasure they once provided now tends to be fulfilled by TV sitcoms; even sitcoms, in the age of single-camera, have become tighter and drier in style. In that sense, Grand Horizons is old-fashioned, even if it does jibe with a current theatrical fashion for old people. (See also: The Waverly Gallery, The Height of the Storm, Three Tall Women, The Father.) Many of the biggest laughs come from jokes about sex, and especially about senior citizens and sex. In the play’s funniest scene, as Brian writhes on the floor in filial agony, Nancy describes a past sexual encounter in no uncertain terms. (That these words come from the 80-year-old lips of the supremely classy Alexander, a former director of the National Endowment for the Arts, adds to the deliciousness.)
Grand Horizons is not especially profound, and its women are written more fully than its men. But in Leigh Silverman’s production for Second Stage, the gifted cast—which also includes Maulik Pancholy as Brian’s would-be hookup and Priscilla Lopez as a blowsy neighbor—keeps the energy high. And the play does have touching things to say about the difficulty of trying to navigate a course between the Scylla and Charybdis of noncommunication and too much information. “I will be a whole person to you,” Nancy tells Brian. “I will.” That is one hard lesson of the play, whether Brian is ready to learn it or not: There comes a certain age when, no matter how painful it may be, you have to let your parents leave the nest.
Helen Hayes Theater (Broadway). By Bess Wohl. Directed by Leigh Silverman. With Jane Alexander, James Cromwell, Michael Urie. Running time: 2hrs 5mins. One intermission.