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Broadway Play Review—Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons” with Jane Alexander and James Cromwell

Grand Horizons

Written by Bess Wohl; directed by Leigh Silverman

Performances through March 1, 2020



James Cromwell and Jane Alexander in Grand Horizons (photo: Jane Marcus)



Bess Wohl’s Make Believe—at the Second Stage Theater last summer—looked at a broken family through the eyes of children, both as scared youngsters and scarred adults. Her new play, Grand Horizons, has a similar outlook, but now the adult children must come to terms with their elderly parents’ surprising decision.

When Bill and Nancy—now living at Grand Horizons, a seniors’ “independent living community”—decide to get a divorce (Nancy blurts it out one morning at breakfast, and Bill agrees), their sons Brian and Ben, along with Ben’s heavily pregnant wife Jess, descend on them to see what the hell is going on. Soon skeletons are dragged out of (and tossed back in) the family closet as shifting family dynamics of the past several decades are analyzed: Bill’s current relationship with another woman, Carla; Nancy’s decades-ago fling with her high school sweetheart; older brother Ben and younger brother Brian still fraught relationship, seeing that straight Ben is a married successful lawyer with a kid on the way while gay Brian is single, desperate for companionship—his Tinder date with Tommy, whom he brings back to his parents’ place, quickly turns ruinous—and is a grade-school theater teacher.

If Grand Horizons approaches sitcom-level comedy at times—like repeated jokes about Brian’s The Crucible staging with a youthful cast of 200—and its contrivances grate more than those in Make Believe (the coup de theatre that ends act one with a literal bang is a hoary device that sets up the less interesting second act), Wohl writes lively, biting dialogue that shows her understanding of and sympathy for her flawed characters. On Wohl’s wavelength is director Leigh Silverman, who smooths out the rough patches in a humorous, involving production that features Clint Ramos’ perfectly antiseptic set design and Jen Schriever’s nicely understated lighting. 


The excellent cast features Maulik Pancholy as Brian’s disastrously funny date Tommy, Priscilla Lopez as a scene-stealing Carla and Ashley Park as an amusingly exasperated Jess. As the brothers, Ben McKenzie’s Ben has a levelheadedness that always threatens to turn sour, and Michael Urie’s Brian lays bare his many scars with equal parts humor and heartbreak. 


Nancy and Bill are embodied beautifully by Jane Alexander and James Cromwell. Cromwell’s dry delivery serves him well as Bill, a man whose life has taken many wrong turns of his own making, while Alexander is simply radiant as Nancy, showing the simultaneous exasperation and elation over her marriage’s possible dissolution. Others have said that the 80-year-old award-winning actress extolling cunnilingus is the show’s high point: actually, Alexander’s entire performance is the show’s high point. 



Grand Horizons

Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, New York, NY

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