SENIOR LIVING AT ‘GRAND HORIZONS’ MEETS GREAT EXPECTATIONS
BETH WOHL’S PLAY PROVES HIDING YOUR REAL SELF DESTROYS REAL RELATIONSHIPS. SENIORS NANCY AND BILL WERE INVISIBLE TO EACH OTHER AND THEIR CHILDREN AS WELL
Review by Vince Mediaa
The San Jose Stage has transformed into an upscale senior housing living room. Bess Wohl's GRAND HORIZONS celebrates The Stage’s 40th anniversary with a very funny and serious trip through senior divorce. The play is now on stage through April 30th. Artistic Director, Randall King, says “The Stage is thrilled to present the Regional Premiere of GRAND HORIZONS by Bess Wohl,” (the play) shakes up the status quo as it delves into the explosive themes of love, loss, and hope”. Director Allison F Rich says “I’m delighted to take a fresh and hilarious approach to explore how one family receives a serious truth bomb that forces them to question every memory and ideal of the ‘perfect family.’ I am excited to direct GRAND HORIZONS as part of The Stage’s 40th Anniversary Season and inspired to collaborate with such a fabulous cast and brilliant creative team.”
“GRAND HORIZONS is the name of a Florida senior village that could pass for any condo housing. Nancy and Bill have been married for half a century, and their life together in a Florida retirement community has become beyond mundane. No words are spoken in the first few minutes of Wohl’s comedy. Nancy's first line breaks the bond of silence. “I think I would like a divorce,” she says politely. “All right,” he says, and the story begins. Both are about to turn 80, they decide that a divorce is the answer. And before you know it their two grown sons and a very pregnant daughter-in-law arrive in a nearly apoplectic state hoping to solve this surprising news and get their parents back together.
The dapper grayed haired Julian López-Morillas is marvelous as Bill, the gruff and vulnerable stoic retired pharmacist who longs to be a standup comedian in life's final act. But the best punchlines come from the rousing Lucinda Hitchcock Cone as Nancy, and delivers them superbly with great comedic timing. “I will be a whole person to you,” Nancy tells her gay son Brian. “I will.” Brian a drama teacher, is played by the exhilarating Nick Mandracchia, his one on one with his mom he avoids her sexual truths that he refuses to listen to or accept. Johnny Moreno does a superb job as eldest son Ben, a neurotic attorney who serves as the play's straight man. The wonderful Ashley Garlick is his pregnant wife, whose career as a therapist adds a rhythm and timing element to the first act. Garlick's perfect comic timing serves the production well. The younger son, Brian, is also a gay high school teacher who is very neurotic, in a different tone. The buffed, talented Matthew Kropschot plays Tommy, a late night hook up that follows Brian home and it goes sideways.
The dazzling Judith Miller gets many of the second act's best laugh lines as "the other woman" Carla. Dressed in her bright red blouse and charming scarf, created by costume designer Brooke Jennings. The cast is dressed well but Carla brightens the tone of the costumes with a red flair. Wohl explores the way in which children often fail to see their parents as three-dimensional people with their own aspirations and disappointments. Rich’s direction is fast paced and the overlapping dialogue keeps the heated arguments the highlight of the action on stage. Yet when each of the four main characters stop to do their own insights the comedy is serious and poignant.
The setting is a living room designed by Robert Pickering includes a working kitchen and a staircase that leads to a second floor. Maurice Vercoutere Lighting Designer uses warm back light beaming from the windows and along with Steve Schoenbeck sound design that includes a mean car crash and a barking dog with perfect sound and lighting effects. Schönebeck also uses between scenes, music by some famed classic artists; The Beach Boys, The Beatles’ “All you need is Love” was appropriate. Props Coordinator Jenn Trampenau brings a complete working kitchen with drinks and at least one complete dinner that Bill and Nancy seem to enjoy. The furniture is sleek senior home decor with a modern edge of fake plants that are pointed out by Nancy. Stage manager Taz Stahlnecker works well with a cast of seven actors entering and exiting throughout the two hour performance.
“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 to have her own life that includes a blue egg vibrator that Carla bragged about. Many of the best laughs come from jokes about senior sex especially about Nancy's love interests. Wohl has something to say about the importance of open and honest expressions of feelings, desires and needs. This is a family that has bottled all that up for decades. Nancy, after raising her two children and caring for her pharmacist husband, is ready to stand up for herself. But their boys, now men, have plenty of unresolved issues and are not having it, they become children again to keep mommy and daddy together.
The writing is polished and there are many clever standouts, including the humor we get as Bill rehearses his stand-up routine with a very funny joke about some nuns. As the story ends, it adds up to a lot of laughs and tears. But there’s more to Wohl’s play, you’ll see yourself in one of the characters. GRAND HORIZONS is a modern Neil Simon comedy, and it’s also a serious, existential drama that’s no laughing matter. Wohl’s existential philosophy is solid and not that simple. The cast is also very balanced, and the direction is compelling. The result is a good time that still provides much to think about as the lights fade.
SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY Presents
By Bess Wohl
Directed by Allison F. Rich
Must close April 30, 2023
San Jose Stage Company
490 S 1st Street, San Jose, CA 95113
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours with one intermission
TICKETS: $32 - $72 at http://www.thestage.org/tickets.
SUBSCRIPTIONS: $125 - $260 at https://www.thestage.org/subscribe.
Photos by Dave Lepori
The cast of GRAND HORIZONS features
Julian López-Morillas* as “Bill,”
Lucinda Hitchcock Cone* as “Nancy,”
Johnny Moreno* as “Ben,”
Ashley Garlick* as “Jess,”
Nick Mandracchia as “Brian,”
Matthew Kropschot as “Tommy,”
and Judith Miller as “Carla.”
Director Allison F. Rich, the creative team includes
Robert Pickering (Scenic Designer),
Brooke Jennings (Costume Designer),
Maurice Vercoutere (Lighting Designer),
Steve Schoenbeck (Sound Designer),
Jenn Trampenau (Props Coordinator),
Taz Stahlnecker* (Stage Manager).