OUTGOING TIDE (4.5 Stars)
*OUTGOING TIDE – Written by Bruce Graham; Directed by Charles Towers; Stage Management by Peter Crewe; Scenic Design by James J. Fenton; Lighting Design by Daniel Kotlowitz; Costume Design by Deborah Newhall, Sound Design by Benjamin Emerson. Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre at Nancy Donahue Theatre, 50. E. Merrimack St., Lowell, through May 15. Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission.*
The Merrimack Theater looks bigger on the outside than it is on the inside and though the stage is small, its current show, *Outgoing Tide*, packs a big punch.
As people filed into their seats, I could see it was going to be a full house. Reddish leaves on branches hanging over a wooden cottage set the stage for autumn. The cut-away beach house displays a dark mahogany interior with a table and three chairs. As the levels lie askew with angled floors, they beg questions about finding “balance.” Ramps and steps lead to a folding chair, fishing pole, and cooler on a beach at the edge of an ocean. Three-foot high saltwater reeds, having passed their season, now stand dry and sentinel to the upcoming winter and outgoing tide. Seagulls, ocean waves, and motorboat sounds drift from left to right across the theater.
This is a show about our times. It’s not about iPhones, computers, or solar power, all of which barely existed when I was in high school, but about a new norm – getting older… way older. Relatively uncommon a decade ago, the centenarian population is doubling every 13 years. Human biology has aged enough to get more diseases and, socially, we now need to figure out what to do with elderly parents who are living longer, but unfortunately, often losing their faculties.
*Outgoing Tide* delves into family dynamics against the serious backdrop of Alzheimer’s disease. Ross Bickell plays Gunner, a father who, through flashbacks, we find out is embarrassed to be seen with his son because he cried, wanted to cook, and wore an apron. On the one hand, we hate him for his meanness, like when he calls his son a “3 dollar bill.” On the other hand, Bickell is a fantastic actor and his sense of humor and perfectly timed “zingers” radiate through the theater. Gunner knows he has a disease and responds to, “Are you out of your mind?” by saying, “Not at the moment, stick around, you never know.”
David Adkins plays Jack, the son, who is in the process of a divorce and struggling to maintain a relationship with his own son. He ponders questions in a modern videogame-addicted-world, such as, “how do you ground a child who never leaves his room?” He perfectly exemplifies a man caught between the struggle with his own family and of his family of origin.
Felicity LaFortune plays Peg, Gunner’s wife and Jack’s mom. She fights with feelings of regret for choosing family over career. She has grown up during a time when pregnancy out of wedlock was shameful. Having forsaken her ambitions for her family, she is now forced to reconcile her life choices and love with not having her husband by her side anymore as she contemplates a long-term care facility, although Gunner has his own (surprise) idea of how to handle his disease.
*Outgoing Tide* is presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre and directed by Charles Towers who decided a year ago not to renew his contract after 14 years. It is a total coincidence that the name of this play describes his exit from MRT. *Outgoing Tide* is a metaphor for the aging process, the ebb and flow of the parent/child relationship, and the promises/challenges people make and experience during a long-term marriage. Bruce Graham’s writing is brilliant, poignant, and funny, summed up with a line from the show, “family is always there for you – whether you want them or not.”
Tickets: $20-$60, 978-654-4678, www.mrt.org