Grand Horizons @ Stage West
Review at OnstageNTX.com Jan Farrington
Stage West closes its memorable 44th season with Bess Wohl’s Grand Horizons, a bittersweet, funny, and truth-telling family story brought to life by a great cast. Aging parents, hovering kids, changing roles, old regrets, new dreams—we get it.
Darkness and light mingle in Horizons—and which one we focus on probably tells as much about our own family history as what’s onstage. From the start, our feelings and memories are part of our response to the play.
Bill and Nancy (David Coffee and Elly Lindsay) have been married for 50 years, and live in a “seniors” condo—on the pipeline, Bill says, to the “assisted living” and “nursing home” levels of care—and then…he folds his arms across his chest and makes a dying gurgle.
Nancy doesn’t laugh. Neither do their two sons, Ben (John-Michael Marrs) and Brian (Philip Matthew Maxwell), who’ve come in hopes of smoothing over a parental crisis that involves everything from stand-up comedy to sexting to U-Haul trucks—and on-the-side romances both old and new.
Bill says he wants a divorce—and Nancy thinks that might be just fine with her.
Everyone reacts, everyone has advice. Ben’s very pregnant wife Jess (Sky Williams), a psychologist, suggests ways they can “unpack their feelings.” Brian’s first question: “What about Thanksgiving?” Dad practices bad jokes. Ben calls Brian “an effing baby”—and Mom reveals a longstanding yen for a boyfriend of half a century ago. Even Tommy, a guy Ben brings home from a bar (Jovane Caamano), has something to say. He thinks Bill and Nancy are “brave” to be reaching for happiness…”at their age.”
Where’s the love in this family? They’re a tightly wrapped bunch, so there’s not much said about it. (“Whatever that means,” says one son about being “in love”, a la Prince Charles.) Does raising your kids, cooking meals, “picking up the check” in all kinds of ways equal love? Is caring for your older parents love—even if you seldom come ‘round? And is it love if you never really “see” someone clearly—content to have them live out a “role” you want them to play?
“I will be a whole person to you,” Nancy says to her sons in a quiet fury. And right there, that’s the line that made me flinch. Been there, felt that. It’s the way of Wohl’s well-crafted play to yank our emotions first this way, then that. Fortunately, we’re never far from some comedy to keep us feeling that all’s not lost. Side character Carla (Cindee Mayfield), a senior-center “floozie” (says Nancy) who might take Bill off her hands, is pretty funny as she begins to realize what “taking” Nancy’s husband might do to her carefree lifestyle.
Dana Schultes directs this crisp ensemble, led by the inimitable David Coffee as red-faced, big-voiced Bill, whose tender underside takes a looong time to reveal itself. Elly Lindsay’s Nancy is brusque and determined, but she’s been bruised and left lonely by her marriage. That needs to change. Sky Williams is layered and warm as Ben’s wife, trying to steer her marriage in a very different direction from Bill and Nancy’s. And the sons? They need to get over themselves, stop worrying if Mom will cook the turkey, and accept change—including being at the “giving” end of the family spectrum.
Grand Horizons is thoughtful without being preachy, comic without relying (too much) on “old fogey” cartoons, and altogether a pleasant evening out—watching someone else’s family fall to pieces. Fun, right?