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Review: ‘Grand Horizons’ offers shameless dysfunctional family fun

James Cromwell and Jane Alexander in "Grand Horizons" on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

You know it is time for a family intervention – or rather a dysfunctional family intervention – when mom (after 50 years of seemingly stable marriage) suddenly decides that she wants a divorce, and dad (whose current hobbies include stand-up comedy and sexting) inexplicably crashes a U-Haul into the house. 

Playwright Bess Wohl, who has won acclaim in recent years with dramas produced Off-Broadway (including “American Hero,” “Small Mouth Sounds” and “Make Believe”), now makes her Broadway debut with “Grand Horizons,” an uneven combination of laugh track sitcom comedy (not unlike an episode of “Seinfeld” focused on Jerry or George’s peculiar parents) and earnest family drama about learning to grow up and make a genuine human connection.

After debuting at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, “Grand Horizons” is being produced on Broadway by the nonprofit Second Stage with an impressive ensemble cast including Jane Alexander (who won a Tony in 1968 for “The Great White Hope”), James Cromwell (“Babe”), Michael Urie (“Torch Song”), Ben McKenzie (“Gotham”), Ashley Park (“Mean Girls”) and Priscilla Lopez (“A Chorus Line”).

“Grand Horizons” (which is named for a retirement/senior housing development where every unit looks exactly the same) opens with Nancy (Alexander) and Bill (Cromwell) casually and silently preparing the table for a meal. After sitting down, Nancy announces that she wants a divorce – and Bill, with a blank face, instantly and nonchalantly consents. 

In response, their adult sons, the businesslike Ben (McKenzie) and frenzied Brian (Urie), who have trouble merely conceiving of their parents as real people with real desires, come home with the intention of setting matters straight and restoring balance. Brian’s pregnant wife Jess (Park), who is a therapist, awkwardly tries conducting physical exercises, such as having Nancy and Bill hold hands.

Their interrogation reveals that Nancy and Bill have each engaged in affairs over the years. Bill’s tacky current girlfriend (Lopez) even makes an appearance and gives a tutorial on how to buy a vibrator on the internet. It also becomes apparent that the kids have their own issues to deal with. Brian, for instance, is so emotionally insecure that, as a high school drama teacher, he cannot bear to reject any students who audition for him. His current production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” somehow has a cast of 200.

“Grand Horizons” is far less inventive than Wohl’s earlier works. But under the spot-on direction of Leigh Silverman (“The Lifespan of a Fact”), it can be shamelessly funny – such as when Nancy pretends to have Alzheimer’s and Bill delivers a sex joke about nuns. The performances are terrific, especially Alexander’s dignified Nancy, Cromwell’s gruff and cranky Bill and Urie’s over-the-top Brian. Urie may be doing his usual comic shtick (exaggerated facial expressions, flamboyant reaction), but it works like gangbusters.

Don’t be shocked if “Grand Horizons” soon becomes a favorite among community theaters looking for a new crowd-pleasing comedy in the style of the late Neil Simon. 

3 stars

“Grand Horizons” runs at the Hayes Theater through March 1. 240 W. 44th St., 2st.com.

Matt Windman