- Last Updated: 10:49 AM, November 26, 2012
- Posted: 11:14 PM, November 25, 2012
THE OUTGOING TIDE
59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St.; 212-279-4200. Through Dec. 16. Running time: 120 minutes, one intermission.
Like a mordantly funny variation on “On Golden Pond,” Bruce Graham’s new play “The Outgoing Tide” wrests a surprising amount of humor from its dark tale of a family patriarch with dementia.
It also boasts a first-rate cast, headed by television veterans Peter Strauss (“Rich Man, Poor Man”) and Michael Learned (“The Waltons”), along with Ian Lithgow, who looks and sounds uncannily like his father, John.
In this Delaware Theatre Company production, now playing 59E59, Strauss plays Gunner, the retired head of a trucking company who now spends his time fishing at his cottage on the Chesapeake Bay. But it’s clear, when he no longer recognizes his grown son Jack (Lithgow), he’s losing his mind . . . and losing it quickly.
Peg (Learned), Gunner’s long-suffering wife of 50 years, has scoped out a nearby assisted-living facility for her husband, and Jack agrees it’s the best course.
But Gunner will have none of it.
“It’s filled with people who are dying,” he complains. “Maybe if we painted clown faces on them . . . ”
He decides instead to take matters into his own hands, coming up with a dramatic plan that has the additional benefit of securing his family’s financial future as well.
The play beautifully blends pathos and humor in its tightly constructed tale that will no doubt hit close to home for many. Although Gunner’s scheme seems outlandish at first, his intense pride makes it all too credible, as when he reacts with horrified embarrassment when it’s pointed out to him that he’s forgotten to wear pants.
“I don’t know how many good days I have left,” he tells his son. “Your mother’s at Walmart pricing diapers for me.”
Sensitively staged by Bud Martin, the play features a few too many awkward flashbacks in which Lithgow is forced to play Jack as a child — an unnecessary device, since the characters’ tense relationships are already so well-defined. But these are minor missteps in this astutely observed work.
Strauss is especially powerful as the crotchety father, superbly conveying Gunner’s complex mixture of strength and vulnerability, while Learned and Lithgow provide sterling support as the wife and son who find themselves helpless as the situation becomes increasingly dire.
Deeply moving and cathartically funny, “The Outgoing Tide” will lift your spirits even as it brings you to tears.