Peter Strauss and Michael Learned in <i>The Outgoing Tide</i>
Peter Strauss and Michael Learned in The Outgoing Tide
(© Matt Urban)
It's autumn at a summer cottage on Chesapeake Bay, and winter is getting ready to settle. This is the point at which we enter Bruce Graham's intermittently engaging play, The Outgoing Tide, currently running at 59E59 Theaters, and metaphorical overtones are immediately clear to see.

Gunner (Peter Strauss) is physically robust for his age, but mentally, he suffers from Alzheimer's. At the start of the play, he can't recognize his adult son, Jack (Ian Lithgow). Naturally, Gunner worries about his quality of life during his waning years, and is resistant to the plan hatched by his wife, Peg (Michael Learned), to move him into a senior facility. Gunner wants to go out with a sense of dignity. A series of awkwardly integrated flashbacks reveal Gunner's strained relationships with those closest to him. He wants to leave his wife and son something other than the bitter memories and resentments he is sure they hold against him.

Strauss can be heartbreakingly vulnerable in key moments when his character forgets something and has to face the fear that his mind may already be too far gone. Unfortunately, the actor's overly bombastic delivery prevents his lines from reaching their full potential.

Learned is strong in her quieter scenes, particularly the ones between Peg and Jack. However, she doesn't quite pull off the admittedly melodramatic final moments of the play, which are so overdone as to inspire chuckles rather than the more serious emotions that were surely intended by the playwright.

Perhaps the best performance comes from Lithgow, who delivers an understated portrayal that remains grounded throughout the work. Moreover, his boyish features serve him well during the scenes when he is remembering interactions with his parents during his childhood years.

Graham's play wrestles with numerous important issues, particularly surrounding an individual's right to die. Yet, despite the high-stakes arguments among the characters, the writing itself never ignites the kind of passion that would push director Bud Martin's serviceable production to the necessary next level. Nor is the acting consistently strong enough to overcome the script's weaknesses.