Monday, October 21, 2013

The Outgoing Tide—CoHo Theatre—NW Portland



Who’s In Charge, Anyway?

This intense drama is written by Bruce Graham and directed by Stephanie Mulligan.  It is produced, with CoHo Productions, by Tobias Andersen, Jane Fellows and Stephanie Mulligan.  It is playing at their site at 2257 NW Raleigh St.  For more information go to www.cohoproductions.org or call 503-715-1114.

This play has much in common with ‘Night Mother and Whose Life Is It Anyway?  Those show dealt with a person ending their own life because of boredom or a major illness.  In this case the person is facing Alzheimer’s.  We all have to face the end of life at some point—no exceptions.  The question might be is, how do we handle it if we are aware of the preparation steps that lead to it?

Once upon a time…in the far-distant past, out of the eternal sea, came a creature that walked on two legs.  The animal matched the tide, living and dying, with the ebb and flow of the waters.  Arriving with the waves and leaving on…the outgoing tide.

An aging gentleman, Gunner (Tobias Andersen), is living the retired life comfortably at his home on Chesapeake Bay.  His wife, Peg (Jane Fellows), is with him, and his son, Jack (Gary Norman), is visiting indefinitely, as he’s now going through a divorce.  The only problem with this idyllic setting is that Gunner doesn’t recognize his son some of the time, forgets to puts his pants on, on occasion, is frustrated when he uses the microwave remote to watch TV, and repeats himself incessantly at times.

His wife is convinced that he should be placed in a personal care facility, where they are equipped to deal with people in his…condition.  But after visiting one of these places where, in the A Wing, patients are kept alive artificially, Gunner wants no part of it.  If the Grim Reaper is just around the corner for him, he has his own ideas of how he wants to meet him, and it has nothing to do with breathing tubes or Jello.

He has regrets, of course (who doesn’t), and wishes portions of life could be like a Mulligan, a sports term where, if you screw up a shot, you get to do it over again.  And he wants no loose ends, as he has all the paperwork in order, so that his family is taken care of.  With an extra benefit that, if he dies accidently, they will get twice the monies from his life insurance policy.

And so, it seems like a dignified end for him and his family.  But he needs his wife to give her blessing to this plan.  And, therein, lies the final dilemma.  The play shifts smoothly from present day to their past, so that the relationships can be even more fully explored.  But the end will still be the same, the only question remaining is, who will be steering the ship?

As you might expect, this is a very intense play but mixed with some surprising humor to lighten the load a bit.  It brings to question the very essence of one’s being.  And there are no easy answers.  Religion comes into play (Peg is Catholic) and so, sin is a factor to be weighed.  And, of course, the deep ties of a 50 year relationship must be considered.  Questions that, at some point, will ask us all to consider the responsibilities and consequences of our actions in life and, at the end, too.

Stephanie has certainly picked the right cast for this show.  I can’t imagine anyone else in these roles, as they seem so real and complete.  She has done a nice job of balancing the humor with the darker moments, and keeping the setting simple, so that the story/characters take center stage.  This is a production for the Ages!

Norman, as the son, puts us in the middle of this conflict, as he is.  You can experience his frustration with the events, and see him struggle with both side of the arguments presented.  Not an easy role to navigate but he does it wonderfully.

And, so to, with Fellows, as the loving wife, afraid to let go, for understandably personal reasons, as well as religious convictions.  Her finely layered performance offers us a very complex and conflicted character.  Beautifully done, Jane.

And Tobias, what can you say about an icon of the Portland theatre scene for many years?!  He confided to me, when he accepted this role that it might be the best role he had come across as an actor.  And, to add to that, he is certainly the best actor to interpret it.  You rail at his Gunner, laugh with him, feel for him and, at the end, root for him.  He is, in a word, splendid and, may the ripples he has created over the years in this sea of art, continue to be a part of his incoming tide for many moons to come!

I highly recommend this show but be aware of the intense subject matter.  The night I saw it, it received a well-deserved standing ovation but there were a lot of tears and hugging after the house light went up, too.  If you do choose to see it, tell them Dennis sent you.