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He Says: 2ST’s Grand Horizons Breaks Down Walls to Get to the Core of What Love Means

He Says: 2ST’s Grand Horizons Breaks Down Walls to Get to the Core of What Love Means

Until the eating begins, the mirrored preparation and wordless interaction of that first pivotal scene is almost aggressive in its silence without being angry, overtly. It’s quick and wisely sharp, saying much about the couple at the center of Second Stage’s Grand Horizons, the new and very funny play by Bess Wohl (Small Mouth Sounds, American Hero) that now occupies The Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway.  Married for 50 years, the elderly couple are living out their years in an Assisted Living community where all the buildings tend to look and feel the same. Much is made of this identity crisis of their living space and structure, but the internal identity of the two, particularly the mother and wife, Nancy, delightfully portrayed by the always excellent Jane Alexander (Broadway’s The Sisters Rosensweig), is equally indistinguishable from one mother-of-a-certain-age to the next, at least that is how she feels. Without a bank account in her own name, the dutiful wife of Bill, crisply portrayed with detail by the also formidable James Cromwell (HBO’s “Angels in America“), doesn’t know who she is or what she wants. As it turns out, neither does Bill. He doesn’t seem to have the vocabulary to articulate pretty much anything, nor the practice. But he certainly knows how to be accomodating.

GRAND HORIZONS
BY
BESS WOHL
DIRECTED BY
LEIGH SILVERMAN

I have to be a whole person!” she states, after much contemplation, and we readily see her point. She has lived her life in secret, never articulating the sensual desires that exist inside this regale well put-together woman. As directed by Leigh Silverman (Broadway’s The Lifespan of a Fact) with a flair for the ridiculousness of selfish family dynamics, Nancy finally states a need, breaking the silence of the dinner, but only gets a passive “OK” in return. What follows is a hysterical family drama where adult children act like know-it-all children selfishly wanting personal internal desires of their parents to be set aside so their own adult lives aren’t disrupted. These two sons need a good talking to, it seems, in what it means to grow up and for parents and children to start seeing one another as true separate adults living out their desired imperfect lives.

GRAND HORIZONS
BY
BESS WOHL
DIRECTED BY
LEIGH SILVERMAN

This is particularly true for Brian, the younger son and theatre teacher, hilariously portrayed by Michael Urie (2ST/Broadway’s Torch Song). He gestures out every twist and drop of humor from a script that doesn’t do the character much justice. He seems to be the one that grows up the least. even when his ridiculousness is so well pointed out by his nocturnal distraction from reality, Tommy, beautifully embodied and role played by Maulik Pancholy (TNG’s Good for Otto). Tommy stands up solidly, although pantless, for Brian’s parents and against Brian’s temper tantrum. It’s a powerfully real moment inside a very funny scene, but, as written, Brian seems to never really get the point, and stays steadfast in his need for everyone to just stay as they are, to “slough it out“, regardless if anyone is happy or not. Urie is magnificently and narcissistically charming and playful in his desperate need for paternal external validation for his life and lifestyle. This is particularly well demonstrated both physically and emotionally during Nancy’s historical late night truth telling moment that is, pretty much, every child’s nightmare. He must endure, most deliciously, listening to a parent talk about their sexual pleasure and body parts. But he can’t quite take it in, fully. It’s perfect in its discomfort, and hilarious in its presentation. 

GRAND HORIZONS
BY
BESS WOHL
DIRECTED BY
LEIGH SILVERMAN

The older son, Ben, dynamically played by Ben McKenzie (Amazon’s ‘The Report‘) has a great task and arch ahead of him to grow through and embody. His very pregnant wife, Jess, magnificently crafted by the talented Ashley Park (Broadway’s Mean Girls), sets the dynamics up well in the family reactionary scene when the children come together to ‘solve’ the problem that now sits, steadfast, in front of them. It all messes with the son’s sense of solidness that they have come to trust and find comfort in. Almost every scene begins with a closing of that front door, and the symbol resonates, as the two sons keep trying to close the door to reality, and keep their parents together, even if it means they have to live out the rest of their lives unfulfilled and miserable. An “ordinary marriage“, as Ben disasterly states to his wife, sends their connection into its own “boa constrictor” swirl squeezing the conflicting roles of ‘Babe’ and ‘Mom’ into one, even as they both fight to be thrown away. The two performances beautifully elevate their insecurities to fill the room designed wonderfully by Clint Ramos (Broadway’s Burn This), with crisp costuming by Linda Cho (Broadway’s The Great Society), attuned lighting by Jen Schriever (PH’s A Strange Loop), and solid sound design by Palmer Hefferan (MCC’s Seared), until the walls of normality come crashing down around them. Was it intentional or accidental? That remains to be seen.

GRAND HORIZONS
BY
BESS WOHL
DIRECTED BY
LEIGH SILVERMAN

Thanks to a well used UHaul truck and a woman named Carla, the “donut freak“, wonderfully portrayed by the feisty Priscilla Lopez, the actress who created the role of Diana Morales in Broadway’s A Chorus Line, the escape plan gets messed up and broken. The family attacks and implodes with authenticity and humor. Love and emotional intimacy are difficult concepts for these adults to discuss honestly, with needs and desires hanging above without words attached rarely spoken out loud for all to hear. “Well, that’s that” but is it ever as simple as that statement by Bill when he tries to conclude the story. I wanted more for Brian and his as-written journey. I would hope that the playwright believes the gay man and theatre teacher could handle a bit more development, as much as his brother and his wife get to navigate through. But it really comes down to Nancy and Bill, trying to find the words and ways to count to 3 and reset.  And they do it beautifully and brilliantly, bringing down the wall of cracked suburbia, giving us hope in what love could actually mean for them, and for us.

GRAND HORIZONS
BY
BESS WOHL
DIRECTED BY
LEIGH SILVERMAN
GRAND HORIZONSBY
BESS WOHL
DIRECTED BY
LEIGH SILVERMAN
GRAND HORIZONS By BESS WOHL Directed by LEIGH SILVERMAN with Jane Alexander, James Cromwell, Ashley Park, Michael Urie, Ben McKenzie, Pricilla Lopez, and Maulik Pancholy. at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater, Broadway, NYC.

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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