Grand Horizons at Stage West, Reviewed by Natalie Shaw in Dallas Theatre Journal
Divorce is never easy. It doesn't matter how long the couple has been married, or what the circumstances are, it's a grim, sad process. And, when children are involved, it's tragic. For children, the family unit is the most stable sense of identity. At the tender age of three, knowledge about the family roles and responsibilities are identified. We learn that our parents are our caregivers and will lovingly care for us, feed us, protect us and guide us. And, even into adulthood, it can be strange to think of our parents as anything other than that, "our parents." We struggle to see them as human beings, who make mistakes and have interests, desires and an identity of their own. And, unfortunately, when parents break up, the child is left wondering, "Well, who am I now? Where do I fit into this new dynamic?" and feels like a strong sense of his/her identity is now shattered. Brian, in Grand Horizons describes it well with his statement, "I don't have another family." Divorce abandons us, leaving us fearful for what's to come, who will care for us, and who will care about us.
Grand Horizons explores the new family dynamics that many of us are familiar with, when it comes to divorce, even on the rare occasion in which divorce occurs among the elderly, and how children (even adult children) are affected by their decision to break up the family. Fifty years into their marriage, Bill (played by Equity Actor David Coffee) and Nancy (played by Equity Actress Elly Lindsay) decide it's time to call it quits. But, their sons, Ben (played by Equity Actor John-Michael Marrs) and Brian(played by Phillip Matthew Maxwell) have something to say about it!
Director Dana Schultes provides beautiful scene changes among the cast, in which characters are moving about the set and going on about their day, as props and set pieces find their way to the next appropriate location for the upcoming scene. This invites us into some of the private moments of our characters' lives and gives thoughtful, smooth transitions from scene-to-scene. In these scene changes, we see just as much of the truth that is their lives, as we do when the lights are up and words are said. The dynamic among the family members onstage is one of true realism! The struggles between the marriages and relationships perfectly mimic those in a typical four-person family, making this play 100% relatable. And, although the subject of divorce is heavy, our cast takes full advantage of the humorous moments within the script, as well as provide perfect comedic timing and demonstrating thoughtful, lighthearted uniqueness of character.
Coffee delivers a first-rate performance as Bill, showing us a strong-willed man with a sensitive side. Bill desires to be a comedian, making people laugh through stand-up. Many comedians will tell you that there's pain behind the performance and finding humor in their situations is a way in which they cope. Unfortunately, the same is true for our Bill. When Nancy doesn't find him to be funny, Bill seeks attention and validation another way. Lindsay artfully sculpts a New-Aged Nancy, who is fed up with living in regret and loneliness, having given up something very valuable that brought her happiness to get married and start a family. From the start of the play, we know that we are seeing a new woman, who is ready to move on with her life, despite what little she may have left of it. The relationship between Bill and Nancy, as portrayed by Coffee and Lindsay, is so well crafted and established, truly bringing forth the tragedy that is their relationship and their individuality, while also enlightening us about the difficulties of any marriage at that stage in life. Indeed, this too-young-to-be-old couple could easily be my own parents, or yours for that matter; seeming to be content and well-off, but harboring secrets from a past life that they are still longing for.
Marrs portrays the responsible, older brother (Ben,) who has become subject to the duties of caring for the financial needs of his elderly parents, while struggling to make sense of their decision to suddenly get a divorce. Marrs unpacks a complex version of Ben that gives us pause to rethink what it means to be an older sibling and one who carries the weight of having a successful career, in order to best support his family on a fiscal level. Meanwhile, Maxwell exhibits the sensitive younger sibling (Brian,) who is still soul-searching, seeking affirmation for his life choices and identity, and wrestling with his own maturity. Maxwell delivers a skillful translation of Brian who is sacrificial and caring; one who is willing to lay down every other responsibility in order to, first, meet the needs of his parents--while secretly hoping that he won't have to. Equity Actress, Sky Williams beautifully interprets Jess, who is Ben's wife and is often times the voice of reason, offering her expertise as a professional therapist to the family, while also making discoveries about what her own little family will look like, once she gives birth to their child in (what looks like) a few short weeks.
A polished, sage green set design is by Kevin Brown, with creative, asymmetrical lines and great attention to detail to the assisted living facility that houses our main characters. Brown provides an exceptional design, which allows for a dramatic set change following intermission. Expert lighting design is by Bryan Stevenson with occasional soft fades that highlight tender moments among the cast. Costume design by Ryan Matthieu Smith is fashionable and well-suited for each character, featuring each individual's personality. Sound design by Patrick Emile is especially fun in this production with a great music selection and realistic sound effects that add to those featured moments in the play. Projection design by Ryan Swift Joyner is a wonderful addition to the play, and perfectly balanced with lighting and sound design, especially in the "U-Haul moment," right before intermission. Intimacy Coordination by Kelsey Milbourn, is well-crafted and thoughtful of the characters and the set design. Props and set décor by Lynn Lovett works very well with the set design, indicating the specifics of the setting. Stage Manager, Sydney Dormire's crew manages transitions seamlessly. And James Z. Appleyard serves as Assistant Director, providing support where needed and taking this production to the next level.
Grand Horizons is the reality check that we all need! It teaches us that all families are made up of individuals who have their own desires and needs for validation, no matter what age. It sheds light on the fact that we are all more than just the roles that we play! Don't miss this incredible, eye-opening production! ...