Monday, December 3, 2012

Peter Strauss and Michael Learned Star in The Outgoing Tide

Playwright Bruce Graham creates a moral quandary for his character Peg that sucked me in and left me questioning what I would do after seeing the New York premiere of his powerful play The Outgoing Tide at 59E59 Theaters.

Peg (Michael Learned) is worn out at the start. In retirement she and her husband of 50 years, Gunner (a superb Peter Strauss), have moved from South Philly to their summer cabin on the Chesapeake Bay (nice set by Dirk Durossette). Gunner’s pronounced mental decline has prompted her to consider yet another move -- to an assisted living community, something that in his lucid moments Gunner opposes vehemently, picturing a future lying in bed, wearing diapers and not knowing who or where he is. He has other ideas for his future.

The Delaware Theatre Company's production, under the direction of Bud Martin, also stars Ian Lithgow as their adult son, Jack. We get to know each of them through their current end-of-life trauma and in flashbacks, both enhanced by James Leitner’s lighting.

The subject matter is bleak, especially for someone like me whose mother ended her life in bed, wearing diapers and not knowing who or where she was. Luckily Graham presents the situation with sensitivity and plenty of sharp wit. And sound designer David O'Connor keeps it authentic with his sounds of migrating geese and the tide, at least according to my friend Karen Jensen who lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and found much that was familiar in the two-hour drama.

Act One dragged a bit for me, but at the end when we learn what Gunner has in mind, I was eager to learn what would happen. Realizing that his life insurance policy would be worth twice as much if he died by accident, Gunner plans to stage an accidental fall from his boat, after downed a $250 bottle of booze to enhance the believability. He is perfectly at peace with this escape from old-age senility, but the challenge for Peg is that he will not do it without her approval.

The tension mounts in Act Two as we wonder if Peg will give her blessing -- he pleads passionately and makes a strong case -- and if he will go through with it with or without her consent. Both being Irish Catholics, they know the consequences. When Peg points out that suicide is a mortal sin and he will go to hell, Gunner counters that he’ll have plenty of good company with all the pedophile priests.

Graham makes Peg and Gunner and their situation real, so I cared about them and was moved by the conclusion. The Outgoing Tide, which runs through Dec. 16, is well worth seeing.

No comments: