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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

The Outgoing Tide and The Golem

The Outgoing Tide
Richard Poe and Anthony Lawton
Photo: Philadelphia Theatre Company
As The Outgoing Tide opens, two men stand on a dock at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay getting to know each other. The older man, in his seventies, tells the story of his life: how he ran a trucking company in Philadelphia, sold it, then retired to a life of fishing and boating. The younger man, "just hitting fifty," says little but listens attentively. After a few minutes, the older man's wife enters, and from her we learn the truth: these two apparent strangers are father and son, and the father's recognition has been clouded by Alzheimer's. Bruce Graham's touching and stimulating new play examines three lives turned upside down by an unpredictable disease, and does so with compassion, insight, and bracing humor.

Gunner and his wife Peg have been married for over fifty years, and although she has supported him through thick and thin, even giving up a prospective teaching career for him, she is being worn out by a life where "every day is another battle over something." Gunner is aggravated too, full of anger and resentment at his frailty. Although he knows his mind is failing him, he resists efforts to move him into a retirement community, knowing that deterioration is the next step: "I'm not wearing diapers," he snaps. "Quality of life? Kiss my ass." Son Jack has spent decades acting as a peacemaker and dealing with shifting allegiances and verbal abuse—and now he has his own battles with a wife he's divorcing and a son he can't understand ("I don't like him. He embarrasses me—go figure"). When Gunner comes up with a plan he thinks will solve everybody's problems, Peg and Jack fight him, even though their relationships are more strained than ever. When Peg tries to explain her relationship with Gunner to Jack, she says "It has never, never been hate. It's just ... fifty years." The word "love" never crosses her lips—or anyone else's.

In spite of its heavy subject, The Outgoing Tide is never depressing. It's invigorating, thanks to Graham's witty, no-fuss dialogue and a tight, engrossing staging by director James J. Christy. All three characters have remarkable depth, and they struggle with shame and bitterness as they rehash old disputes and cling to cherished memories. But there's no sentimentality here; even the flashback scenes reject nostalgia for a near-brutal honesty. (Those flashbacks mix the past with the present fluidly, one of several ways this new drama echoes and expands upon Death of a Salesman.)

Richard Poe's sandpaper voice is perfect for the tough, working class Gunner, and he plays the character with a gruff irritability that makes his moments of helplessness all the more poignant. Robin Moseley's gives Peg an admirable nobility, but hints at the desperation beneath the brave façade. And Anthony Lawton ties it all together, playing Jack with a weary, anguished dignity that grabs the audience's sympathy in the first scene and never lets go. David Gordon's bay front house set is full of smooth lines and handsome wood surfaces, subtly adding to the play's authenticity.

Eventually, all three members of the Concannon family must find the strength to move on, even if it's not in the way they had planned. The way they reach that point—with comedy, tragedy, and moments of startling perception and clarity—makes The Outgoing Tide a play to treasure.

The Outgoing Tide runs through April 22, 2012, and is presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $46 – $59, with discounts for students, seniors and groups, and are available by calling the box office at 215-985-0420, online at www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org, or by visiting the box office.


The Golem
The Company of The Golem
Photo: Ian Paul Gozzone
The legend of the Golem—a large, violent creature, made of mud and clay, who goes to any extreme to protect his community—has been a part of Jewish folklore for centuries. EgoPo Classic Theater's The Golem dramatizes several Golem stories, but with an inspired twist: the stories are acted out by eight Jews from Prague who are on a cattle car headed to Eastern Czechoslovakia. They've been told they are being "resettled" to another area of the country, but as they stand and shiver, humiliated and forced to defecate into a bucket, they know where their journey will eventually end.

One member of the group is a puppeteer, and he entertains his fellow passengers with the 16th century tale of a Golem who protected the people of Prague against a blood libel perpetrated by an evil priest. As the passengers listen to the story, they join in, manipulating the marionette-like puppets (Martina Plag did the ingenious puppet design). Two more stories follow, but they're not told with puppets—the actors play all the parts themselves, in a production staged by director Brenna Geffers with ever-increasing inventiveness.

At first, the characters have no unity. They come from different social classes, and their suspicions and stubbornness dominate their conversations. But as time passes, they begin to bond, and as they act, sing and play instruments (Andrew Nelson wrote the klezmer-flavored music), they become a community despite their occasional infighting.

The eight cast members of The Golem wrote the play themselves, creating it as an acting exercise to explore the question "Who would need a protector the most, and when?" Griffin Stanton-Ameisen plays the puppeteer with a dash of flamboyant showmanship, and the other actors are Josh Totora, Dave Jadico, Geneviève Perrier, Sarah Schol, Ross Beschler, Kevin Chick and Lorna Howley. Each makes a significant contribution, and each performance is deeply moving. Matthew Miller's set is dominated by the wooden slats of the cattle car, but it's more sophisticated than it first appears; with the help of Matt Sharp's moody lighting, this train really does transport us to another world.

"That was beautiful," says Perrier after one of the stories. "And so terribly sad." That's true of the entire play, and that sadness may be too much for some to bear. The gloom does get overpowering at times, even though it feels completely appropriate.

Each of the Golem stories has an element of horror—and when the stories end, we're back on the train, facing a horror of a different kind. Do these terrified people say they wish a Golem were there to protect and rescue them from the Holocaust? No. They don't need to. Some things need not be said.

The Golem runs through April 15, 2012, and is presented by EgoPo Classic Theater at the Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Ticket prices are $20 – $50 and are available by calling 800-595-4TIX or 215-552-8773, online at www.egopo.org, or by visiting the box office.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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