“The Outgoing Tide”

‘Outgoing Tide’: The play of laughter and forgetting

Bruce Graham's play about how a family contends with Alzheimer's leads to further consideration

Tobias Andersen and Gary Norman in CoHo's "The Outgoing Tide"/Brud Giles

Tobias Andersen and Gary Norman in CoHo’s “The Outgoing Tide”/Brud Giles

By RICHARD WATTENBERG

A play about Alzheimer’s disease and end-of-life decisions hardly sounds like an evening chock full of laughs. And yet Bruce Graham’s “The Outgoing Tide” addresses these topics in a taut family drama that skillfully balances pathos with humor that is sometimes dark and sometimes tender. Graham’s play and the current CoHo production of it successfully eschew sentimentality. Instead we are offered a thoughtful glimpse into the particular dynamics driving one family as its dementia-stricken patriarch tries to tie up loose ends and guarantee the future security of his loved ones.

“The Outgoing Tide” is a loosely structured play. While for the most part Graham’s family drama is set in and around the Chesapeake Bay cottage where the hard-nosed Gunner and Peg, his wife of more than fifty years, currently live, the action frequently detours into the past to represent, by way of showing and not just telling, significant moments in Gunner and Peg’s family history.

The focus, however, is on Gunner and Peg’s current dilemma: Gunner, portrayed with light-hearted irascibility by Tobias Andersen, is gradually losing his battle with Alzheimer’s. The loyal Peg, played with a high-strung intensity by Jane Fellows, believes that moving from their home into a care facility, where she can continue to attend to her husband’s needs but with ever-present professional assistance, has become necessary.

To help her convince the stubborn Gunner to take this step, she enlists their fifty-year-old son, Jack. Gary Norman’s sullen, depressed Jack has his own problems. He is in the process of working out a divorce with his wife, and he is disappointed by his own son’s inability to find a path for himself. Even more troubling for Jack is a lingering fear that Gunner might not ever have really loved him.

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