REVIEW: Grand Horizons
What is love exactly? This relationship play hilariously explores this and more.
There were moments in this two-hour play that were so funny I snorted. And there were moments in GRAND HORIZONS where I cried a little. And there were even a couple of moments when I gasped. If that’s not good enough of a recommendation for you to see the latest show at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, then I don’t know what to tell you. It’s hilarious but profound. It’s sarcastic but with sweetness.
It’s a lot like life, actually.
The script by Bess Wohl is someways sitcom-esque; but there’s a depth to it that makes it more than just some silly romantic comedy featuring an older couple who has decided to divorce after fifty years - and the havoc it’s wrecking on their two sons. Local legends Dale Hodges and Joneal Joplin play “Nancy” and “Bill,” a former librarian and a retired pharmacist, who like many couples their age, have just gone about life normally. Unfortunately, for them, normal means without passion, without real communication, and perhaps without love. The play opens wordlessly, going about their usual dinner routine, until Nancy simply says, “I think I want a divorce.” Bill just says, “OK.” Then we fade to black and strap in for a wild ride.
Their sons, “Brian” (the hilarious Nick Cearley) and “Ben,” (the always reliable Jared Joplin, real-life son of the actor playing his father on stage) show up along with Ben’s very pregnant wife, “Jess” (Shonita Joshi) to try to sort out what is going on with their parents. Brian is neurotic and needy. Ben is practical and a problem-solver. Jess, conveniently, is a relationship counselor, but even she can’t seem to help this relationship - or perhaps her own, which might be headed down the same path as her in-laws if she and Ben aren’t careful.
Rounding out the cast are Dan Davidson and Deb G. Girdler, whose characters are integral to helping us - and the characters on stage - figure some things out. They do so hilariously. There are some comedically shocking moments in this show; if you’re a prude, you better bring some pearls to clutch because you’ll need them.
While the laughs were so frequent on opening night that some of the actors lines were inaudible, at least up where I was sitting. But nothing earth-shattering was said in those moments, and I think the actors will learn different pacing as they figure out what audiences are responding to throughout the run. Director Brian Robertson keeps the action moving while allowing the actors the freedom to dive in head first to the relatable laughs in the script. Hodges and the senior Joplin have an easy chemistry together; this isn’t their first time playing together on stage - and I hope it’s not their last. Jared Joplin is one of the most reliable performers in Cincinnati; why he’s not on stage more often is a mystery to me. (I had the unique pleasure of sitting next to the real Mrs. Joplin, and she is just as delightful as the rest of their talented family.)
Cearley, a local boy turned quasi-celebrity from his work with the band “The Skivvies” is a great comedic actor with great command of timing and persona. Joshi has the unenviable task of trying to maintain the composure of the rest of the family and does so with sincerity - and then takes advantage of her comedic moments, as well. Davidson, who you may also know as “Sparkle Leigh,” has a brief but memorable turn as a hookup gone wrong for Cearley’s lonely - and super sensitive “Brian.” And Girdler has a faint Bea Arthur vibe with her commanding stage presence and really great costume (courtesy Niki Hernandez-Adams.)
I feel like a broken record when it comes to the tech at ETC; Brian c. Mehring is top-notch with his functional, beautiful sets. I especially love realistic spaces that look lived in - and I would love to live in this one. His subtle lighting choices, especially at the end of the play, are ultra-professional, too. Matt Callahan has fun with the sound design, using various cues to help further the story along.
This is not a show for children. It’s definitely not an episode of “The Golden Girls” or any other network sitcom; it’s bawdy and raw but full of genuine heart. I think a lot of people might see themselves on stage. I hope they do. I hope they feel seen, too. This is the kind of play that sneaks up on you; it’s really a cautionary tale.
Thankfully, the copious amount of laughs makes the medicine go down a lot smoother.
GRAND HORIZONS plays at Ensemble Theatre in downtown Cincinnati through February 5th. Tickets and more information can be found here.