Harnessing the tides

At Good Theater, an honest (and sometimes humorous) look at dementia
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  March 20, 2014


AS DEEP AS THE OCEANS The love between Gunner (Will Rhys) and Peg (Florence Lacey) is as complex
as it is abiding.

For the first few moments of The Outgoing Tide, Bruce Graham’s deceptively simple play on stage now at Good Theater, it is easy to think you’re observing two strangers interacting for the first (and probably last) time. The younger man, straight from the suburbs with his rumpled dress shirt and cell phone, doesn’t fish, he doesn’t have a boat — he doesn’t fit in on this Chesapeake Bay beach, where the older man has clearly settled in for the long haul. But then, just before their small-talk comes to its seemingly inevitable conclusion, we learn that these men are not strangers at all. Far from it; they are father and son, one fast losing his grip on reality, the other forced to recognize the mental decline of a man he always sought to please. 

Under the smooth direction of Brian P. Allen, three Equity actors delicately tackle the terrors of dementia, aging, and loss in this New England premiere. While the play deals in particular with the end of life, its underlying questions address everything leading up to that universal conclusion: How well do we know those who are closest to us? What are our obligations to family, both emotionally and financially? And maybe, even, what is worth remembering?

In short scenes set in and around the beachfront cottage of Gunner and Peg Concannon (set designer Stephen Underwood and scenic artist Cheryl Dolan have successfully recreated the casual dune-side beauty of such a property, complemented by Iain Odlin’s subtly shifting light scheme, all sunset pinks and seaside purples), we learn that Gunner’s illness is getting increasingly worse. He tries to use a remote control to turn on the microwave; he often forgets basic words. Peg (the lovely Florence Lacey, primarily known for her musical theater roles but doing a fine job with this meaty material) wants to move Gunner into a retirement facility. She has finally acknowledged that she needs help, and she wants her visiting son, Jack (a troubled JP Guimont), to help her make the case to Gunner. Gunner is strongly opposed to such a move, and Jack isn’t too keen on it either — they’re both upset by the depressing assisted-care wing. Ultimately, the family will have to grapple with past wounds and future uncertainties before considering an unorthodox resolution.

As Gunner Concannon, dwindling yet intractable patriarch, Will Rhys employs malleable facial muscles and energetic gesticulations to suggest that cruel joke of time — that as people age, they often revert back to childhood either by choice or necessity. Whether he’s throwing a tantrum, charming his wife of 50 years, or struggling to maintain his mental faculties, Rhys channels the raw sentiment of youth by, at different points, pounding his fists against his head in frustration, smiling impishly, or coming up with outlandish solutions to family problems. As with a child, it makes his character simultaneously infuriating and vulnerable.

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