End of life issues punch us in the face in Northlight Theatre’s world premiere production of “The Outgoing Tide,” by Bruce Graham.
Gunner, retired from a successful trucking business, is developing Alzheimer’s disease and he knows it. Peg, his wife of 50 years, wants them to enter an extended care facility, but he would rather die than go there.
Gunner has called their only son, Jack, to the couple’s summer home along Chesapeake Bay to reveal a plan he believes will make all things right.
Director BJ Jones, Northlight’s artistic director, has chosen a stellar cast. John Mahoney is Gunner, full of fury and confusion, as he helplessly watches his memory fade and his behavior become more dangerous. At the start of the drama, he doesn’t recognize his own son, and later we learn that he once placed his newspaper on the stove and almost burned the house down.
Rondi Reed is Peg, the loving caregiver who is coming to the end of her rope. Thomas J. Cox is Jack, the diffident son who isn’t much help. He was bullied as a child by his father and tells his mother that he is doing the same thing to one of his sons. This trio works together so naturally that they really are a family, facing this difficult, even terrifying situation.
Patches of black humor provide some relief. Joking darkly about a murder/suicide pact, Peg says wryly that she would be afraid Gunner would shoot her and then forget to shoot himself!
Informing all this is the family’s Catholicism. “In sickness and in health, Jack,” Peg says to her son, “in sickness and in health,” indicating her lifelong commitment to care for Gunner until the end.
There is no spoiler alert in this review. “The Outgoing Tide” is about love and courage, and that is reason enough to see these excellent actors bring this powerful drama to life.
“The Outgoing Tide” runs though June 19 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Call 847-673-6300 or visit northlight.org.