Jane Alexander, and James Cromwell Joan Marcus
by Eugene Paul
Rothman, artistic director of 2ndStage has done us an enormous favor by braving
the winds of juke box musicals currently sweeping through town and
bestowing upon the Great White Way a mostly comedy – New Yorkers love to laugh
– family dramedy with a beginning – oh what a beginning – middle – oh what a
middle – and end the way plays have always meant to be. And especially for
giving knockout Jane Alexander the role of a lifetime, deeply touching. But
who knew she was so hilariously funny?
Bess Wohl has provided the absolutely stellar cast with a Tesla of a vehicle
but it’s pretty clear that they’ve made playwright Wohl’s play gleam like a
Tecla pearl and that means the driver of this delightful, sparkling show,
dazzling director Leigh Silverman, has a second outing as bright as her first –
think Soft Power – in the same season. And it’s still early!
get a woefully telling panorama of Grand Horizons, , the retirement village
community that Nancy (wowsome Jane Alexander) and husband Bill French (A-One,
surprising James Cromwell) have retired to before we get into the workings,
thanks to wise projection designer Bryce Cutler who later supplies a
smashing—pun intended – follow up. Wryly pertinent designer Clint Ramos takes
it from there: we’re inside the overstuffed retirement residence of Nancy and
Bill. They’re setting up their meal together in the nicely equipped kitchen-
dining-living area, making the edibles, filling their plates, setting the
table, silently, smoothly, obviously old habits self choreographed by the two
of them. They’ve been married for fifty years.
her first mouthful, Nancy says quietly, simply, “I think I want a divorce.”
finishes chewing his mouthful in the silence of that declaration, swallows, and
says, “All right”. And continues eating.
outside of some startled burst of laughter, presents us in the audience plenty
to chew on ourselves. And that’s the way it should be. Nancy, perfect wife
and mother, is eighty if she’s a day. Bill’s a long retired pharmacist. Not
too joky, that. Maybe that’s why he’s taken one of the Grand Horizons wealth
of activities, a stand-up comedy class. Something to do. Nancy does old
clothing drives for refugees.
Park, Michael Urie, Jane Alexander, and James Cromwell Joan Marcus
children, Ben and Brian, (brilliant Ben McKenzie) and (over the top Michael
Urie) are wild at the news. Somewhat cooler is Jess (splendid Ashley Park)
Ben’s very pregnant wife, but all of them are bound and determined that this
obvious insanity simply cannot be allowed to happen. Almost relentlessly, Nancy
and Bill , determined, pick apart the material pieces of their half century
marriage and along the way shred decades of taken for granted
conceptions. Which includes their relationships with their children. Shrieks
of laughter all the way by an audience which finds itself squirming once and
again and tearful once and again and wondering what’s going to happen again and
again. Playwright Wohl is a damned good craftsman.
the reversal: the dazed children bracing their parents, challenging them,
castigating them, treating them like children. Take for instance older son Ben
demanding to see his father’s cell phone and an audience reaction of a silent
it’s Ben, the lawyer son, whose summation of their lives, all of them, as white
picket fence lies which shatters them – and us – opening up a potentially
unbreachable chasm that throws a bald, baleful light on the fun which is no
longer fun. There isn’t a more smashing first act curtain on Broadway. Then,
pay close attention to the pre-second act projection of that gated marvel of a
community Grand Horizons. It’s worth it. If at first there seems not to be
anything different take another look. Aha. You’ll be laughing out the other
side of your face.
enjoyed Maulik Pancholy’s stint as Tommy, the disastrous hookup Brian brings
back to his parent’ house late night after the bombshell announcement by his
Urie, Maulik Pancholy
Priscilla Lopez as Carla, presumably Bill’s fling on the side who does a little
flinging of her own. But far and away, it’s Jane Alexander, blue mouthed and
free, utterly beyond type, that rings our chimes. Long may she dingaling. Long
may they all. Linda Cho’s costumes suit them to a T. Jen Schriever’s lighting
adds balm and brio, Palmer Hefferan’s sound design is artfully effortless.
At the Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street. Tickets: $59-$199.
212-541-4516. 2hrs 15 min. Thru Mar 1.