Ashley Park, Michael Urie, Jane Alexander, and James Cromwell in GRAND HORIZONS at the Helen Hayes Theater. Photo by Joan Marcus.

By Carol Rocamora

“I think I would like a divorce.”
“All right.”
(End of Scene.)

If you’ve heard funnier opening lines on a New York stage this year, please let me know. As uttered with impeccable poker faces by Nancy (Jane Alexander) and Bill (James Cromwell), a septuagenarian couple sitting down to supper, they launch the wildest rollercoaster ride so far this season— Grand Horizons, Bess Wohl’s hilarious new comedy at the Helen Hayes Theater.  

The situation is as follows: Jane (a retired librarian) and Bill (a retired pharmacist) have been married for 50 years. Jane’s sudden request takes place in their new home in a suburban retirement center, where they’ve just moved. Uh oh.

Enter frantic family members, the first responders to this emotional “911”— son Ben (Ben McKenzie), his very pregnant wife Jess (Ashley Park), and his younger brother Brian (Michael Urie). Why are their parents doing this? they cry in disbelief. Why now? “You’re almost 80— after that, what is there?” asks Ben.

Michael Urie in GRAND HORIZONS. Photo by Joan Marcus.

So how does the family deal with this crisis? The kids move in, of course. Therein lie the payoffs of this situation comedy. First, daughter-in-law Jess attempts to serve as marital therapist (Bill and Nancy try holding hands— it doesn’t work). Ben, the uptight lawyer-son, suffers from eczema while trying to sort out the business details of his parents’ break-up, all while father Bill tries to dissipate the tension with jokes he’s rehearsed for his stand-up comedy class. Brian, the high school drama teacher (currently directing a production of The Crucible featuring a cast of 200), tries to alleviate the stress with a one-night hook-up with boyfriend Tommy (Maulik Pancholy). Instead, Brian gets an unwelcome confession from his prim librarian-mom Nancy about her past marital infidelity (no salacious details spared). Then there’s a climax to Act I that’s worth the price of admission— followed by a surprise character introduced in Act II (no spoilers!).

Leigh Silverman skillfully directs a crackling comedic ensemble. Jane Alexander and James Cromwell, veteran actors of stage and screen, are pitch-perfect as the bewildered couple navigating uncharted marital waters. Michael Urie wows with a marvelous comedic tour de force performance as the over-emotional baby of the family. The rest of the ensemble members shine in their respective roles. Clint Ramos’s scenic design of the cookie-cutter development home is smashing (literally), enhanced by Jen Schriever’s lighting, hilarious sound design (Palmer Hefferan) and projections (Bryce Cutler).

Priscilla Lopez, Jane Alexander in GRAND HORIZONS. Photo by Joan Marcus.

But comedy, as they say, is a serious business. Family issues, therapy, and spiritual well-being are some of Bess Wohl’s recurring themes (Small Mouth Sounds, Make Believe). In Grand Horizons, Wohl’s focus is on aging and its related issues: “You get older, you become invisible,” says the surprise character in Act II (played by Priscilla Lopez, who also treats us to some rather spicy details on sex and the senior citizen). Ultimately, Grand Horizons is an investigation of long-term marriage— “a contract to be tied to each other’s stupidity,” Nancy calls it, woefully.

“Truth is the first part of love,” Nancy adds, in the play’s penultimate scene.  That’s the memorable moral of this comedic gem.

Grand Horizons

By Bess Wohl, directed by Leigh Silverman

A Second Stage production at the Helen Hayes Theater

Through March 1.