Bess Wohl explores communication and family discourse in her comedy Grand Horizons which Stage West opened last weekend. The comedy centered on an octogenarian couple deciding without much fanfare to get a divorce. The adult children got some feelings about all that though.
Directed by Dana Schultes, the play was filled with funny quips and dialogue that often reminded of a 90s family sitcom episode. The aging parents Nancy and Bill played by Elly Lindsay and David Coffee go about their daily routine in the opening scene before a quick agreement to separate. The rollercoaster began when adult son Ben (John-Michael Marrs) and his therapist and pregnant wife Jess (Sky Williams) visit the parents at their assisted living facility. Gay son Brian (Philip Matthew Maxwell) also joins in the fray.
The first act’s comedy was derived from the parents’ bickering and sensible perspectives. Lindsay’s portrayal of an 80-year-old woman finding her way in life was a delight to watch, as her character found fulfillment in volunteering and release in discussing intimate secrets. Lindsay gave a Nancy worth rooting for. Coffee was all bluster with a heart as the bratty Bill who dreams of being a comedian with a side chick in tow. Coffee perfectly captured the needy, codependent vibes with a spot-on performance.
Marrs and Maxwell gave fine, energetic performances as the adult sons, trying to make sense of the situation and find ways to keep their parents married. However, the characters themselves were the problem. Their flabbergasted and angered responses written in Wohl’s dialogue did not seem grounded in reality, and instead felt like they were written solely for laughs. Marrs, however, did flesh out his character with nuance and tics that added to Ben’s heightened emotions. Ben’s wife Jess was the most stable of the adults. Williams had the gravitas and patience that served well to counteract the brothers’ behavior. In Jess’s own blowup, Williams was a refreshing shock to the family’s discourse.
Maxwell had two lovely scenes that redeemed Brian. A scene with Lindsay where Nancy confided in Brian was sweet and sassy all at the same time. In an extended scene that felt a bit like filler material, Brian brought his hookup Tommy (Jovane Caamano) back to the assisted living residence with parents upstairs for some hot action. Caamano was a bright spot with hilarious role play talk that then turned into a rejection. Maxwell had two scenes that improved Brian’s character. One scene, in which Nancy confided in Brian, was both sweet and sassy.
The second act brought in Cindee Mayfield as Bill’s girlfriend Carla. She shined in a small role that she shared with Lindsay. The girlfriend and the ex-wife was a satisfyingly friendly exchange to watch with both showing their care for Bill.
Ok, but let’s talk about Kevin Brown’s set. He created a lovely sanitized living space that felt right out of an assisted living facility. The walls had a calming subtle shade, the furniture was serving Haverty’s all day and the exits and doors were all clever. A solid set for the story. But when Nancy moved into her own apartment in the facility, the set swapped into a mirror image of the first version and it was mindboggling to figure it out because with doors and steps, that wasn’t just a switcheroo of both sides. Or was it (insert thinking emoji here)?
Overall, Grand Horizons was a pleasant watch, thanks to its straightforward humor, talented cast, and thought-provoking situations involving older parents and the lack of communication among family members. However, the story was not particularly innovative, and the characters never felt fully developed. While there were some memorable moments, the story itself ultimately fell short of being truly grand.
Grand Horizons runs through Oct. 1 at Stage West.