Saturday, October 21, 2023



By Ruth Ross

Six words, “I think I want a divorce,” uttered over lunch by Nancy French to Bill, her husband of 50 years—followed by his quickly acquiescent “okay”—set in motion the plot of Bess Wohl’s family dramedy, Grand Horizons, currently onstage at the Chatham Playhouse.

Especially affected by the impending split are the couple’s two adult sons: lawyer Ben (and his very pregnant wife Jess) and drama teacher Brian. Rocked by this unexpected development, the three young adults go into high gear to save their parents’ marriage. Over the next few days (two hours in drama time), long-kept secrets are revealed (often with intimate detail), and the kids’ efforts lay bare myriad misunderstandings, sibling resentments and a pervasive lack of appreciation by family members for each other’s abilities, accomplishments and general worth as a thinking human being.

Sharon Garry’s steady, taut direction keeps the dramatic tension ratcheted up high, so it doesn’t descend into melodrama. She has cast a septet of very talented actors, each of which commands the stage and delivers dialogue in a natural and convincing manner.

Christine Orzepowski’s Nancy is like so many women of the 1960s: sure she must marry and have a family to be fulfilled, never thinking to ask for or even have her own bank account and generally feeling unseen by the more high-powered males around her. She wears her character’s sadness like a cloak and breaks our hearts, yet when she recalls a romance with a high school beau and recounts a sexual encounter rather graphically, she shows us what Nancy’s made of and could have become.

Her retired pharmacist husband Bill, played with droll world-weariness and palpable disappointment by Christopher C. Gibbs, likewise failed Spousal Communications 101: working very hard because it was expected of him; failing as a sexual partner because he never knew how to ask what she wanted, let alone voice what he desired; and now seeking laughter and companionship with Carla, his classmate in a stand-up comedy class at the Grand Horizons retirement community, played by a magnificent Jody Freeman Maloy. The latter’s expressive face brings down the house when she realizes that having Bill come to live with her means she must cook three meals a day!

The kids are quite a trio. The oldest, Ben, is played by Matt McCarthy (left, with Jessica Phelan) as an earnest, pragmatic professional whose life is thrown for a loop when his parents decide to separate. He may never have thought about his parents’ relationship for even a millisecond, but he has always expected it to be there. His wife Jess is portrayed by an incandescent Jessica Phelan as a young woman with a mind of her own but who, nevertheless, hasn’t always made her personal wishes known to her husband. As an outsider, she’s trapped in this merry-go-round of blame and recrimination, so we sympathize with her when she gives Ben an ultimatum: to go home and let the parents decide for themselves what they want to do. Rounding out the trio is Byron Hagan as the hyper-emotional Brian, a high school drama teacher who casts a play with every auditioner, so no one feels left out! He’s the most affected by the split and argues mightily for his parents to reconcile. Hagan effectively pouts when they won’t listen to him and engages in sibling rivalry hijinks accusing Ben of bullying him and deriding his choice of profession.

Terrific support is provided by Corey Chichizola (right, with Byron Hagan) as Tommy, the gay guy Brian brings home from a local bar. In stark contrast to Brian’s reticent, closeted homosexuality, Chichizola portrays Tommy as a young man comfortable in his own skin, playfully inventive, yet not above righteously and confidently telling Brian off when he realizes what a future with Brian would be like! What a joy to watch him spout off!

As always, production values shine at the Chatham Community Players. Roy Pancirov has designed a set perfect for the cookie cutter apartments at a retirement community, complete with a faucet and refrigerator that work! Scenic artist Dean Sickler has beautifully brought Pancirov’s design to life. Alan Ellis’s sound and Alex Fritsch’s lighting further enhance the setting, and Fran Harrison’s costumes are appropriate to each character and communicate something about their personality (Left: Jodi Freeman Maloy).

Grand Horizon says something important about how older adults have, as director Garry says in her notes, been “compartmentalized—either by social norms or their own self-imposed roles…that govern the way they communicate with and relate to one another in the present.” Unfortunately, these attitudes repeat in the way the younger family members treat each other, which doesn’t presage much hope that such behavior will be eliminated. By exploring this theme, Bess Wohl has written a play that is both heartbreaking, funny and appropriate for audience members of any age group. Go buy tickets and see Grand Horizons before it closes November 4th!

Grand Horizons will be performed at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 N. Passaic Ave., Chatham, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sunday, October 22, at 3 PM, through November 4. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.635.7363 or visit online.

Photos taken by Dawn C. Photography