Wow. Bruce Graham’s “The Outgoing Tide” addresses Alzheimer’s and our right to die without regression. It’s intelligent, very funny, and emotionally, piercing and difficult to take. In some ways it is the reverse of “On Golden Pond.” Here, the son defends the father to the mother. Jack is visiting his parents, Peg and Gunner, who have moved permanently to the fishing cabin they once only used for vacations. Jack recalls Gunner’s abuse, that too often passed for manhood training back in the day. Though he never confronts him about it. Gunner’s memory is beginning to lapse, and dealing with his frustrating behavior is eating away at Peg. Peg is utterly devoted, but no matter what compromises she tries to offer (assisted living, in home nurse, hospice…) Gunner will have none of it. He has embraced his impending departure and wants to go out on his own terms. While Peg (understandably) finds this completely unacceptable, Jack defends Gunner’s romanticized version of “Hari-Kari.”
Kudos to Mr. Graham for writing this drama, loaded with painful, troubling issues, without resorting to manipulation or pathos. Outgoing Tide is clever and wry, with genuine feeling while avoiding the hazard of endless agony. The characters are well conceived, though there were times when Jack (though caring) seemed to lack sympathy for his mother. These issues, of grappling and coming to terms with deteriorating cognition, quality of life, and the devastating void that overtakes us when dear ones cross over, take on a whole a new meaning when they are no longer debated in the abstract. Jack, Peg and Gunner are sitting in a room with an atomic bomb under the kitchen table and no one knows how to discuss it resourcefully, or defuse it. Graham navigates with compassion and savvy, balancing melancholy with humor. Do only selfish people have trouble watching their soul mates kick off early? How do fathers and sons resolve the tumultuous battle between love and virility? Is The Outgoing Tide everything it might be? In these matters, it’s not easy to say?
Director Marty Van Kleeck and her cast Jack (Cameron Cobb) Peg (Gene Ray Price) and Gunner (John S. Davies) handle this rough medicine with mastery, vinegar and warmth. This drama is so deeply moving and skillfully done. It will stay with you a long, long time.
One Thirty Productions presents The Outgoing Tide playing March 9th- 26th, 2016. The Bath House Cultural Center. 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, Texas 75218. 214-670-8749. www.bathhousecultural.com