In Tandem delivers just half a play with The Outgoing Tide

Susan Sweeney and James Pickering in The Outgoing Tide at In Tandem.

Victims here, victims there, Good Lord we’ve got victims everywhere.

That’s what gets delivered in “The Outgoing Tide,” the Bruce Graham play that opened Friday night at In Tandem Theatre.

The first victim we meet is Gunner (James Pickering) an aging outdoorsman, fishing in the creek near his cabin in the woods. Gunner isa talking with a younger man, a stranger uninterested in fishing or the outdoors and answering the nosy questions from this old man with grudging hesitation.

It takes only a brief few minutes until we begin to suspect that there is something wrong with Gunner.

The next victim we meet Gunners’ wife Peg (Susan  Sweeney), stepping into the cabin, obviously the woman of the house and, in the first surprise of the evening, the mother of the third victim, we also meet son Jack (Simon Jon Provan), who was the man talking with Gunner in the opening scene.

Aha!

Confirmation that Gunner, who didn’t even recognize his only son, is suffering from some form of dementia and his memory is in full fade. He is traveling a long way down the road toward the kind of ending that scares the daylights out of him.

Peg, however, is as much a victim of the disease as is her husband.

It takes almost no time at all before she lays open her woes to her son.

“Worse Every day. Wait  until he starts repeating himself. We have pancakes tomorrow? Can we have pancakes tomorrow? Pegh, tomorrow can we have pancakes? Peg, know what would be good? Pancakes. And each time I tell him, Yes, Gunner, we can have pancakes tomorrow. And five minutes later he’s back about the pancakes. The other day, Oh, God Jack. I snapped. I lost it. Pancakes, I know I know, you told me twenty stinking times so far today. I felt awful, the look on his face. It’s not his fault. I have to keep telling myself. That it’s not his fault. So, I don’t say anything. I just keep smiling and say, sure Gunner. We can have pancakes. “

Peg is overwhelmed with the frustration of trying to care for and figure out what to do with her husband. She is thinking about the ease of an assisted living facility that Gunner will have nothing to do with.

Jack is the third victim in this play, and, perhaps the most damaged of all.

He grew up in a house where his father wanted him to play ball but he cried when he was hurt and his mom babied him. He is 50 years old and still struggling with what he wants to be when he grows up. He and his wife are getting a divorce after two children are out of the house and they are left with a third, who never leaves his room.

He has been damaged most of his life, cursed by role his parents created for him, as an ear for private secrets.Both his mom and dad repeatedly ended each secret with “Don’t tell your mom” and” Don’t tell your dad.” The secrets of the family have worn Jack out.

There may be a fourth victim in this production however, the audience.

Because what we really get is two different plays, one moving and full of suspense and depth and another that seems contrived and plods along like a Budweiser horse on Ambien.

Part of the problem, at least on opening night, is that both Ms. Sweeney and Mr. Povan, are on the same stage with Mr. Pickering, one of the greatest actors Wisconsin can call our own. There will rarely  be parity between him and others on a stage but those who share a play with him have to be at the top of their game.

And that is not the case here.

Ms. Sweeney had trouble with the dialogue and Mr. Povan had difficulties with the emotions of his role. Mr. Graham may have started out with a good idea for a play about an old man, full of life, who is watching his mind travel away.

But at some point he began to create other stories, stories that nobody really cared about. Jack’s  lackluster son and he photos of mansions he dreams about and he keeps in a box in his basement. His disintegrating marriage and his questions about coming to some grip with his own sexuality as a boy.

There is a foray into the history of the 51 year marriage between Gunner and Peg, a foray that adds nothing to the story being told.  

He peppers all of this with a series of brief flashbacks that are neither illuminating or particularly well acted. Had this play ended after the first act, it might well have been an enjoyable evening. But carrying on like this beast does just became boring and predictable.

Production credits; Director, Chris Flieller; Set Design, Steve Barnes; Sound Design, Jonathon Leubner; Costume Design, Kathy Smith; Light Design Holly Blomquist; Production Stage Manager, Chris Flieller; Rehearsal Stage ManagerJane Flieller; Assistant Stage MNanager, Aaron Suggs; Production Photos, Mark Frohna.

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About davebegel@gmail.com

Theater Critic in Milwaukee.
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