In Tandem Produces Family Drama ‘The Outgoing Tide’
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: James Pickering as Gunner and Susan Sweeney as Peg in "The Outgoing Tide." Photo Courtesy of In Tandem Theatre.
When it comes to writing dramas, Bruce Graham stresses the importance of adding an element of humor. “In one of my plays there is a line that says, ‘Even Schindler’s List had a couple laughs in it,’” Graham notes. “You can’t just have unrelenting doom, who wants to pay and see that?”
Graham’s The Outgoing Tide, which explores the struggles of aging and its effects on a family, follows Gunner as he begins to experience dementia-like symptoms. When his wife Peg suggests they give up their beloved Chesapeake Bay home for an assisted-living center, Gunner hatches an unorthodox plan to decide his future.
“It’s a show that addresses issues of not just end of life things, but larger questions of self determination,” explains Chris Flieller, who will be directing In Tandem’s upcoming production of The Outgoing Tide. “Who gets to say what an individual’s quality of life is besides that individual?”
Flieller recalls reading Graham’s script and beginning to envision which Milwaukee actors he wanted to fill the cast. The three actors rounding out the ensemble includes James Pickering as Gunner, Susan Sweeney as Peg, and Simon Provan as their adult son Jack. Most Milwaukee theatergoers will recognize Pickering from his 38 seasons as a resident actor for the Milwaukee Rep, which included 14 appearances as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. When Flieller asked Pickering to read for the part, he didn’t know the local actor was born and raised in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, making him an even better fit for the script written by Graham, who resides in Philly.
Coincidentally, Sweeney and Flieller’s working relationship began more than 35 years ago, when Sweeney coached Flieller in voice and speech as a graduate student at the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program. “I have deep respect for her as a teacher and she’s just a marvelous actress in her own right,” Flieller says. As for Provan, he was last seen on the In Tandem stage as Donald in the 2013 production of Apartment 3A
From left to right: Susan Sweeney as Peg, Simon Provan as Jack, and James Pickering as Gunner. Photo courtesy of In Tandem Theatre.
The Outgoing Tide premiered in 2011 at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre starring the late John Mahoney as Gunner. Although the words “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” are never mentioned in the script, audiences commonly associate these diseases with Gunner’s symptoms.
“To me it’s always been about a guy kind of looking back and saying, ‘Wow I’ve made some mistakes and now I’m going to try and correct them,’” Graham shares.
Graham based the setting of The Outgoing Tide off of his vacation home in Elkton, Maryland. In Tandem hired set designer Steve Barnes to bring Gunner and Peg’s Chesapeake Bay cabin to life. Flieller describes Barnes’ set as “deconstructed realism,” featuring only a few walls so the performers can easily go inside and outside the cabin at different phases in time.
Along with the performance, local artist John Kowalczyk’s Myriad of Murals will be on display at In Tandem’s 10th Street Gallery. The exhibit features two murals that Kowalczyk created in response to The Outgoing Tide’s take on the human mind. His work is comprised of mixed media paintings and larger-than-life installations that incorporate vintage fabrics, thrift store treasures, gift-wrap, shelf liner, string, ribbon, re-purposed drawings, glitter, and gold. Kowalczyk will join Flieller and the cast for a talk-back session after the March 1 performance. Dr. Bashir Easter from the Milwaukee County Department of Aging will help continue the discussion on aging symptoms after the March 8 production.
The Outgoing Tide, presented by In Tandem Theatre, runs Feb. 22 – Mar. 18 at the Tenth Street Theatre at 628 N. 10th St. For tickets call the box office at 414-271-1371 or visit intandemtheatre.org