By Bill Hirschman
The 70-something couple methodically sets the dining table in their senior condo apartment and begins dinner as they have daily for a half-century. A classic well-worn tableau.
After a few minutes of wordless routine, the wife looks directly at her husband across the table and says, almost matter of factly, but with all seriousness, “I think I would like a divorce.”
Not changing his bland expression, the husband looks at her and answers just as matter of factly, “All right.” And then they go back to the meat and potatoes.
That kicks off an unusual mélange of considerable domestic comedy intersecting with serious themes about aging, dreams deferred and unrequited yearning in Boca Stage’s intriguing Grand Horizons.
Lay on top the comic frustration as the couple’s grown children, unnerved by the impending change, suddenly become paternalistic, presumptuous and unwanted interventionists.
Bess Wohl, an acclaimed playwright of the unique Small Mouth Sounds, creates a dance on a tightrope in what sometimes echoes the familiar tropes of an ’80s television sit-com with sharp wise-cracks and character-based humor (and some wry sex talk), but is unabashedly infused with poignant issues about regret and a reawakened desire for vibrance in whatever future we have left whether we are 39 or 79.
Surrender credit to director Genie Croft and a cast of A-list actors who deftly thread through both paradigms without shorting either. Trust us, a lesser cast and director could never make both sides land simultaneously without becoming “And now, a very special episode of The Golden Girls.”
Nancy’s retirement as a librarian and Bill’s as a pharmacist have cleared their vision that while they were in love for years – and may still be in a way — they haven’t been in love for quite some time.
It has become clear to Nancy that she wants to do more with her life as a literacy activist and that this stultified relationship is among the impediments. Bill, laid back to the point of seeming somnambulance, has not considered a break up (“I would have slogged it out”), but has similar if less imposing longings. For instance, he wants to pursue a hobby as a stand-up comic based on classes at the local rec hall.
Otherwise, in this community called Grand Horizons, there are no horizons seemingly to be crossed.
The couple are far more at peace with this decision than Ben, an uptight attorney married to pregnant therapist Jess; and Brian, an uptight gay theater teacher – both vibrating with anxiety that their childhood image of their parents’ relationship is, at best, falling apart and, at worst, has long been a falsity.
“If you want a divorce, you should have done it when we graduated from college like normal people,” one brother complains.
And later: “Adults can’t do what they want; that’s the definition of adult.”
But Nancy says she looks at herself today in a mirror and she doesn’t recognize that woman. And she worries that the older you get, the more you become invisible, or alternatively you become a cartoon or a crotchety old woman.
Bill and Nancy begin to articulate, likely for the first time to each other and themselves as well, about their perception of missed opportunities in life as a whole. “I thought maybe something would click,” one of them says about the marriage. They realize that there has always been a lack of clear communication and major misunderstandings in a very practical but perfunctory relationship.
Among the secrets emerging – indeed perhaps not as secret as they thought – is Bill’s affair with Carla, a vibrant woman from a nearby senior village.
Echoing the sense of lost opportunities, Nancy tells of the man she fell in love with decades ago, but with whom she had only one passionate tryst – an experience that has reminded her every day since of what she does not have and what she might have had.
The reexamining unhinges the boys who are at an age when they have committed to their life choices, but it has sparked some pushback from Jess who bristles at Ben continuing a years-long habit of calling her “Babe.”
Sex pops into the various discussions, the funniest when Carla introduces Nancy to the modern sophistication and variety of vibrators. Again, this ought to seem like a lame sit-com scene, but with these actresses as slowly bonding women, it’s genuinely funny.
There are other pitch perfect scenes of comedy you might find in Neil Simon or an MTM show. At the end of Act One, Bill is packed up (he rarely lets go of a toaster) and is getting ready to leave for good to move in with Carla. But Nancy stops him and slowly, as has been the dutiful habit when he leaves the house all these years, makes him a baloney and cheese sandwich, slowly piece by piece, puts it into a baggie while the three young folks look on with open mouths.
For all the humor, there is no sit-com happy ending, only a quiet commitment that they couple has made to looking forward rather than back—which likely will not be with each other.
Again, the cast under Croft’s direction (all better known for dramatic roles) is what keeps this out of the shallow guffaw category. Lourelene Snedeker’s Nancy seems cool, collected and confident in her decision, yet she gives the character an underpinning of fear of the unknown and some uncertainty whether she is doing the smart thing.
Michael Gioia’s Bill is wonderfully wry with a dry wit lying just a few millimeters under a somewhat sedated exterior. Wayne LeGette’s Ben is spinning most of time at 3000 rpm with an intense concern for his parents but also for what this might say about the reliability of any relationship – like his own. Jacqueline Laggy creates a therapist who cannot stop trying to solve someone’s relationship problems with such tactics as insisting they hold hands.
Jordon Armstrong is the younger brother who has picked up a guy (Kevin Cruz) but can’t emotionally consummate a hook-up. Angie Radosh, as always, nails her part as the girlfriend Carla.
This is what used to be called a boulevard comedy, something the French dramatists excelled at in the 1950s, but Wohl has invested the
with a wistful yearning that this group makes all too recognizable.
Grand Horizons runs through Feb. 26 at Boca Stage at the Sol Theatre. 3333 N. Federal Highway. Boca Raton. Presented at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $45 and $50. Contact www.bocastage.net or call 561-300-0152.