Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in a small cottage on Chesapeake Bay, Gunner and his wife of over 50 years, Peg, are visited by their son Jack. Gunner isn't always lucid and often forgets words and who people are, and sometimes confuses the microwave for the TV. Gunner knows he's starting to lose it and Peg is trying to convince him, with Jack's help, to move into an assisted living facility. But after seeing a close friend deteriorate in a similar situation Gunner has no desire to end up there. So he's come up with a solution that will forego any relocation to a nursing home and provide for his family, but he just has to tie up some loose ends first.
With the use of well written flashbacks that flow seamlessly out of and back into the modern-day scenes, Graham's script slowly gives us information about the fractured dynamics and emotional baggage of this family. He also has written three-dimensional characters and, while he spoon feeds us the details of the characters' pasts, his plot for their present situation is quickly set up. The result will most likely be felt differently depending on how close one has been to dealing with a family member suffering through one of these diseases. But no matter what, this somber play's final scene packs an emotional punch.
The Theatre Artists Studio cast are all giving effective, realistic, and moving performances. Michael Fleck instills the role of the opinionated but lovable Gunner with a sure-footed stubbornness that works well for a retired Teamster who wasn't always the best father. He also nicely portrays the scenes in which Gunner becomes forgetful without making them melodramatic. Yet it is the way he shows Gunner's courage and conviction concerning the decision he makes that will resonate in how pure it is. Judy Lebeau deeply conveys the ongoing pain, frustration, and struggle in dealing not only with Gunner's memory lapses but with her desire to do what she believes is best, even if it may not be the best for her husband. Fleck and Lebeau create a realistic couple who have been married for over fifty years and the duo are doing very good work here. As their son Jack, who always gets put in the middle of his parents, Steven Fajardo is equally adept at portraying a man who, while going through a difficult period himself, finds himself having to pick sides.
Director Judy Rollings sets the right tone throughout, with a good balance between the almost gallows humor of a few moments and the more quiet scenes. Fleck's beautiful set design perfectly evokes the back porch of the cottage house.
While a fairly simple play, The Outgoing Tide features believable characters and a situation that many people have unfortunately encountered. It is a quiet play, with many tender moments as well as some very funny ones, and with a gifted cast and clear direction the Theatre Artists Studio presents a beautiful production that gives voice to an issue that few people wish to talk about.
The Outgoing Tide at Theatre Artists Studio runs through April 24th, 2016, with performances at 4848 East Cactus Road in Scottsdale AZ. Tickets are on sale at www.TheStudioPHX.org or by calling 602-765-0120
Written by Bruce Graham
Cast (in order of
appearance): Gunner: Michael Fleck*
* Member, Actors' Equity Association