While I have seen a number of enjoyable plays lately, I can’t really think of one that is more timely than The Outgoing Tide, currently running at the Northlight Theatre, written by Bruce Graham and directed by Northlight’s Artistic Director BJ Jones. This is especially relevant with the rapidly aging population in the U.S. and the significant increase in the number of people afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The play is centered around an elderly couple, Gunner (John Mahoney) and Peg (Rondi Reed) and their only child, Jack (Thomas J. Cox). Gunner has Alzheimer’s, which is rapidly progressing, and is becoming increasingly obvious to those around him. Because caring for Gunner is becoming increasingly difficult -- he’s often confused, disoriented and forgetful, and she’ s already had to lock the doors at night to prevent him from running away, as he had once before -- Peg would like to move to an assisted living facility. She feels that it would be the best thing for the both of them. There she would have the resources to take care of her husband herself for as long as she could. Once he takes a turn for the worse, and she would no longer be able to take care of him, he could easily be moved into hospice (part of the same facility), where he could receive the more intensive care that he would need.
Gunner too is acutely aware of his situation and what the future holds in his more lucid moments, which are still quite frequent. Though he went to visit the facility at his wife’s request, he has no intention of selling their home on the shore of the Chesapeake to move into such a place. He believes those sorts of places are just out to make money and prolong the suffering of the sick and dying. He thinks of his longtime friend who was suffering from cancer, and was revived in hospice and kept alive only (from Gunner’s perspective) to suffer some more before being allowed to die.
Caught in the middle of this debate is their only child, Jack -- who is also in the process of getting a divorce -- who has returned home at his father’ request, and who has also visited the facility (as his mother had asked him to do). Though both of his parents make their wishes known, he seems to feel as though he really cannot go along with either one of them. If he goes along with his father’s plans, he is in some way letting his mother down. If he goes along with his mother's plans, he feels as though he is disappointing his father. He seems to be stuck in a no-win situation.
It is only once Jack returns to his parents’ home that Gunner reveals his own plans to avoid the vegetative state that he expects to experience in the not-too-distant future, as a result of the disease, plans that will assure that Jack and Peg are provided for (in part to make up for some of the mistakes he feels he has made), albeit in an ethically questionable manner. The only thing standing in Gunner’s way? His wife won’t hear of it.
This well-written, well-acted play touches on many important issues that families affected by the disease have to deal with everyday. Among these are end-of-life issues, quality vs. quantity of life, and the very real, very serious impact that the disease has not only upon the individual afflicted with it, but upon their friends and family as well. Perhaps, in many families (as well as in this country at large) this play will initiate a dialogue about that which has all too often been taboo but is nevertheless very much necessary.
The Outgoing Tide is currently running at Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie. To purchase tickets call 847-673-6300 or visit the Northlight Theatre website, www.northlight.org. Tickets for this production are $30-$50. Young Adult tickets (for those 25 or under) are $10 (one per person with valid ID). Box Office hours are Monday - Friday from 10 AM to 5 PM and Saturdays from 12 PM to 5 PM. Hours are extended through showtime on performance days.
Curtain times are: Tuesdays at 7:30 PM (except May 17, May 24 and June 7); Wednesdays at 1:00 PM and 7:30 PM (except no 7:30 PM on May 25); Thursdays at 7:30 PM; Fridays at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 2:30 PM (except May 14) and 8:00 PM; Sundays at 2:30 PM and 7:00 PM (except no 7:00 PM on June 5 and 19; 6:00 PM only on May 22).
For more information regarding The Outgoing Tide, special events associated with this production, or about Northlight Theatre, please visit www.northlight.org.
Production Photos: Michael Brosilow