BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
His marriage on the rocks, a middle-aged man pays a visit to his 70-something parents, now living in comfortable retirement on the Chesapeake Bay, only to find that his otherwise hale father’s mind is slipping badly with early dementia.
While Jack’s mother, Peg, hopes to convince her husband, Gunner, to relocate to an assisted living facility, the feisty old fellow is harboring a more finite plan.
That’s the autumnal situation for “The Outgoing Tide,” Bruce Graham’s new dramedy that currently is on view at 59E59 Theaters.
Fleeting flashbacks inform viewers about Jack’s uneasy boyhood relationship with his dad and also regard the couple’s Philadelphia courting days half a century earlier. The present story, which spans two days, views Peg’s attempts to foil Gunner’s fatal intentions while Jack helplessly stands by.
Graham has written more than a dozen varied plays. One of his first was “Burkie,” a 1984 work that also studies a disintegrating Philadelphia man dealing with end-of-life issues. It’s interesting to see Graham return to this theme in “The Outgoing Tide.”
Only slightly reminiscent of “On Golden Pond,” the two-act play benefits from the natural give and take of Graham’s conversational dialogue. Easygoing humor brightens the play’s early passages with a surprising amount of laughter as Jack contends with his parents’ various don’t-tell-your-mother/father confidences.
Both Emmy Award-winners, Michael Learned (“The Waltons”) and Peter Strauss (“Rich Man, Poor Man”) respectively portray Peg and Gunner.
Always a solid presence, Learned quietly depicts the increasingly frustrated Peg with unerring simplicity. Sporting a working-class Philly accent as Gunner, a handsome wreck of a man, Strauss gives a mostly busy performance that appears more actor-y than affecting. Ian Lithgow’s flashbacks into young Jack are not so convincing but he effectively conveys the mature character’s distress over his parents’ situation.