By Myra Chanin . . .
Like all effective comedy, farce requires truth and transparency and must be character-based. Its resolution involves the granting of the kinds of wishes only available through genies. At BocaStage the genie is Genie Croft, who magically understands how to make an audience chuckle, chortle, guffaw and howl. She’s a member of the board of BocaStage, the director of Grand Horizons (now playing at BocaStage through February 28) and a maestro at mining the camouflaged woe in a situation and giving its woebegone characters the guts to go on.
Not even John Bartlett actually knows the name of the expiring actor who first uttered the immortal quip, “Dying is easy; Comedy is hard.” Comedy maven Mel Brooks has a different take on grief and glee. He describes the bookends of life more self-servingly: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you trip and fall down a manhole and die.”
Only a farce—a dramatic presentation which requires its author, director and actors to juggle slapstick, buffoonery and wit. Unsteady, crudely-drawn characters are placed in ludicrously improbable situations and they’re able to re-establish their equilibrium when they’re a hair’s breadth from disaster. Then, the designated poor soul who seemed headed to an embalmer suddenly pops out of the manhole grinning and looking none the worse for wear.
Grand Horizons is not only a comedy by Bess Wohl—whose awards and credits are endless—but also the name of the retirement community in which affluent residents in look-alike houses endure the ultimate stages of life. They’re shifted from independent to Assisted Living facilities—usually called something inoffensive, like “Rose Garden,” in order to hide the fact that it’s for the non-compos mentis.
Grand Horizons opens in the conventional kitchen of a conventional two-story villa where Nancy (Lourelene Snedeker) and Bill (Michael Gioia) who’ve been married for fifty years, silently bustle around the kitchen, tending to their morning chores. The mister wears a blue plaid shirt that hangs over his jeans. He has a whole head of hair and a trim white beard. His eyeglasses are perched on the tip of his nose, and he seems distracted. His blonde missus is dressed in tan slacks and an un-ironed striped shirt with rolled up sleeves and seems obsessive-compulsive. As she fries eggs, he lays down the silverware, flamboyantly fills tumblers with Crystal Light and deposits the salt and pepper shakers in the center of their kitchen table, set for two. After their food is set in place, they sit down and unroll their napkins in silence. Bill begins eating. Nancy seems nervous but finally speaks. “I want a divorce” she says, casually, to which Bill replies, “all right,” just as casually, and continues cutting up the eggs.
The following day, their children arrive to make everything right. Their older son, Ben (Wayne LeGette), is a bossy, harassed lawyer, married to Jess (Jacqueline Laggy) a very pregnant, take-charge, but still compassionate psychologist, working her way up to becoming the daughter-in-law from Hell. Their younger son Brian (Jordan Armstrong) is a gay man who has not yet achieved I’m gay and proud status. He teaches drama at a nearby college and can’t say no to his students. As a result of this failing, he’s included two hundred young’uns in the cast of his production of Arthur Miller’s, The Crucible, setting a new world record. But, when it come to his personal life, he’s wishy-washy, and can’t say yes to the sex games suggested by Tommy (Kevin Cruz), whom he picked up at a bar.
Bill is busy, loading his rented U-Haul with the possessions he’s taking with him, mostly electrical appliances, including the toaster and the TVs, for which he’s paid with the income he earned during his 50 years as a pharmacist. As he moves around the stage, Bill auditions phrases, faces, vocal delivery and body language he plans to use in his future stand-up comic career, which was one of his secrets. Others are exposed. Bill also has a tootsie named Clara (Angie Radosh), of whom Nancy is aware. Nancy’s secret? An affair (or was it a one-night stand) with Hugh, an unforgettably sexy boyfriend. She insists on sharing intimate details with her uncomfortable younger son. But these emotional outbursts are insignificant in comparison with the actual explosion that ends Act 1. To see and feel the eruption in its total glory, you’ll have to buy a ticket and bide-a-while at Grand Horizons. You won’t be sorry you did. There’s plenty of fun ahead.
Now, let’s give credit to whom it is due. Frugal set designer Ardean Landhuis is re-using the same kitchen he designed for BocaStage’s previous production, Time Alone, but replaced the part of the stage that held a prison cell with a living room, complete with a comfy, downy, rolled-arm couch, a bookcase and a lush Ficus plant which no one realizes is fake.
Three hundred cheers for the clingy bright blue jersey pant suit bestowed by costumer Albert Arroyo on the belly and boobs of the sexiest mother-in-waiting ever seen in Palm Beach County. If Meghan Markle had spent the fortune she laid out for her wedding gown—which fit her very badly—on a similar baby bump and milk pumps as the ones Jacqueline Laggy rented, instead of that cheap unstable pillow that kept falling down around her ankles, not even that nogoodnik Piers Morgan would have dared to wonder in print if Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor had been born and delivered by the Duchess or whether she arrived via surrogate.
The acting was great to behold, and rightly so as Snedaker, LeGette and Radosh, BocaStage regulars, are both multi-award winners and members of Actors Equity. Newcomers Kevin Cruz and Jordon Armstrong easily held their own. By the way, Armstrong spends his non-acting hours building theatrical sets, including Grand Horizon’s. I’ve been told Harrison Ford subsidized the years he spent waiting for his big break as a carpenter. May Armstrong encounter the same good luck.
Which leaves us with Michael Gioia, a local actor who is neither a BocaStage regular, Actor’s Equity member or needs to list his awards. He performs as if he was Actor Studio trained. I have never seen an actor who was so completely in the moment. His perfect body language while he pretended to try out jokes for his stand-up routine. His sly, smug, crooked smile when he admitted he knew about Ruth and her boyfriend but kept silent because he liked seeing her look happy. How his expression changed and his eyes jumped to and from whichever person was speaking. He deserves an Oscar or a Tony for his performance. He holds an MFA from the University of Florida and was the owner and Executive Director of the Acting School of South Florida. I can’t wait to see him again.
Grand Horizons. Through February 28 at Boca Stage at The Sol Theater (3333 N Federal Highway, Boca Raton, Florida). For tickets contact www.bocastage.net or 561-300-6612
Photos: Amy Pasquantonio