In the prologue to Bess Wohl’s Grand Horizons, before we learn that Nancy and Bill French have passed their 50th anniversary, we watch as they wordlessly ready their breakfast as a team, the familiar exercise of a much-married couple.
So it is more than a little surprising when the first words out of her mouth are “I think I would like a divorce.” Responding without emotion, as if she had asked him to pass the salt, Bill simply says, “All right.” Blackout.
From the opening moments of the Tony Award-nominated play from 2020, both surprising and provocative, we are drawn into a situation that tacitly asks whether love can last over time and whether mankind was meant to be monogamous. Those are heady questions to be sure, yet playwright Wohl wraps them in an entertaining narrative that has all the tell-tale signs of a situation comedy.
So it goes at Boca Stage which, like so many area theater companies trying to navigate this post-pandemic climate, has opted for distinctly lighter fare. If you hadn’t been handed a program, you might swear that Grand Horizons was penned by Neil Simon, instead of the female Odd Couple, which is next on Boca Stage’s season schedule.
(As further evidence of this drift towards the lightweight, Boca Stage has just announced that it will co-produce its next season with MNM Theatre Company, known for serving up mainstream musicals. Talk about your odd couples.)
Anyway, with Grand Horizons — named for the senior living community that Bill and Nancy recently moved to — Wohl does wade into some dark waters, mitigated by her tendency to reach reflexively for an audience pleasing punchline.
That opening vignette is followed closely by the arrival of the Frenches’ two grown sons — Ben (Wayne LeGette) and Brian (Jordon Armstrong) — as well as Ben’s very pregnant wife, Jess (Jacqueline Laggy). Incredulous and angered by the news of their parents’ break-up, they ascribe it to dementia, or at least to the onset of senility.
But Nancy’s mind is crystal-clear. She wants out of the marriage that has prevented her from so many bucket list activities, as well as her discovery that Bill has had “something on the side” with a retired dental office receptionist named Carla (Angie Radosh). And in one of the play’s most evocative sequences, movingly delivered by Lourelene Snedeker, Nancy recalls her own enduring preoccupation with a high school beau, now deceased. Son Ben is understandably uneasy hearing her wax rhapsodically about the oral sex she received from him.
Meanwhile, Bill (Michael Gioia) makes plans to move out from Nancy and in with Carla. He packs up a U-Haul truck, but doesn’t get far, as Act One ends with the most startling theatrical effect ever perpetrated on Boca Stage’s stage.
After intermission, we meet Carla, who warily exchanges notes with Nancy about Bill. Carla — played with a twinkle in her eye and deadly comic timing by Radosh — assumes that Nancy would be resentful of her hubby-robbing. In fact, Nancy is delighted to have Bill taken off her hands, so the two women bond and become fast friends.
Retired pharmacist Bill is, after all, a classic curmudgeon and — according to Nancy — not much of a lover. It is hard to tell which is more improbable, that she has stuck by him for 50 years or that he has been taking classes, learning to become a stand-up comic. (At one point, the play gets put on hold, so that Gioia can deliver an off-color, but funny, joke about nuns trying to qualify for entrance to heaven.)
Speaking of tangents, there’s a well-written but off-topic scene in which Brian, a gay high school drama teacher, brings home a potential one-night-stand from a bar, but refuses to get physical with him since his parents are in the next room. If Grand Horizons is a sitcom, then this scene is a probable spinoff.
On paper, the women have the play’s best lines, and Snedeker, Radosh and Laggy mine them for their humor quotient. Director Genie Croft might have tried to rein in the comedy in favor of the serious themes hiding beneath it, but Friday’s opening night audience seemed to lap up the jokes. It seems likely that Boca Stage’s older audience members will see something of themselves in these characters, so perhaps a few of the play’s laughs will catch in their throats.
GRAND HORIZONS, Boca Stage at Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, Feb. 26. $40-$60. Call 561-300-0152, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit primalforces.com.