The Outgoin Tide

by Stu Brown

Theatrical portrayals of individuals grappling with a family member at the onset of dementia are nothing new. What separates The Outgoing Tide, playing at Square One Theatre in Stratford, from other productions is how it weaves a similar plotline of the show, ‘night, Mother, into the story. Both plays deal with a central character’s unmitigated, matter-of-fact, life-ending decision.  Instead of simply viewing the destructive affects of this terminal condition, there is a somber, unimpassioned finality.

The three-character play centers around Gunner (Al Kulcsar), a feisty, retiree living on the coast of the Chesapeake with his wife, Peg (Peggy Nelson) of 50 years. Gunner is in the early stages of dementia, at times lucid, at other moments lost in mind and thought. Peg, desperately seeking a solution, wants them to move into a long care facility. The thought is repugnant to her husband who has a more compelling and ultimate answer to his worsening situation. Their son, Jack (Damian Long), arrives for what seems like an ordinary visit. He has his own personal issues swirling around him, such as a divorce and a do-nothing teenage son. At first, Jack’s visit seems well-timed, but there are more telling reasons why he has been called home. By the end of Act I we better understand the cool, calculated agenda Gunner has set in motion. The second act, while overly talky, slowly, yet assuredly leads to the inevitable denouement. 

The show, penned by Bruce Graham, will probably resonate more with older audiences that have experienced dementia up close or even at a distance. The author imbues the mother and father with a rollercoaster of emotions as they confront the developing scenario. The feelings are heartfelt and ring true. Through the generous use of flashbacks we learn about the family’s past and secrets. The son, however, is less developed as a character and comes across as less sympathetic and appealing. The resolution of the play, while disturbing and uncomfortable, has a feeling of realism and truthfulness.

The set by Greg Fairbend, Frank Fartley and Robert Mastroni is quaint and modest, but it is a fine representation of a small summer beach home with a detailed exterior and interior.

Al Kulcsar as the patriarch, Gunner, is scrappy, quarrelsome and resolute. He convincingly portrays a man attempting to understand and deal with a terminal condition. You many not agree with his logic, but you understand his reasoning. Peggy Nelson, as Gunner’s steadfast wife, Peg, is a jumble of conflicting emotions as she tries to stem the downward spiral of the family’s life. Sometimes her actions are in direct contradiction to each other but, then again, thinking and acting clearly is not necessarily the norm at this time. Damian Long, as the lone, suffering son, Jack, is somewhat of a conduit between his parents. He comes across as rather bland and unassertive. A more forceful presence would have provided an extra level of familial fireworks and dynamics.

Director Tom Holehan shrewdly keeps the pacing of the show askew.  At one moment an air of normalcy permeates the residence, an instant later an unprovoked tirade descends upon the household. Holehan makes the very small performance space into an asset, bringing the audience more into the rhythm and flow of the production. He also effectively sets the stage for the disconsolate finale. 

The Outgoing Tide, a poignant and heart-wrenching drama, at Square One Theatre (http://squareonetheatre.com/) in Stratford through March 20th.

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