by Clark Groome
Since Bruce Graham made his playwriting debut with “Burkie” at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays in 1984, his work has been a regular part of the Philadelphia Theatre scene. Over the last 28 years I’ve seen 18 of his plays. They have all been unique, and all have a sense of humanity and humor that distinguish them from the works of other equally prolific playwrights.
Graham’s latest, “The Outgoing Tide,” is making its Philadelphia debut at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, where it will be through April 22. Its production here follows one in Chicago last season, where it garnered the Jefferson Award for Best New Play, the Windy City equivalent of our Barrymores or New York’s Tonys.
PTC’s superb production affirms the Jeffersons’ wisdom. “The Outgoing Tide” is a tough and tender play about the pain a family experiences when its patriarch is facing the long road of oncoming dementia.
Gunner (Richard Poe) is both terrified of and determined to defeat the monster that is slowly destroying him. He figures out a way to do that so that his family — wife Peg (Robin Moseley) and son Jack (Anthony Lawton) — will be taken care of handsomely after he’s gone. His scheme, which I won’t reveal, troubles them. The two days we spend with them at Gunner and Peg’s home on the Chesapeake Bay are revelatory, emotionally draining and exquisitely human.
Graham has always been good at creating characters who are believable. These three are among his most sympathetic and recognizable. As his three fine actors limn them, we see their varying emotions, their devotion and their fears. This remarkable play is receiving a stellar performance, magnificently directed, like so many of Graham’s other plays, by James J. Christy.
David Gordon’s set, Pamela Scofield’s costumes, R. Lee Kennedy’s lighting and Bart Fasbender’s sound all add immensely to the play’s effectiveness.
But it is Graham’s characters and his adroit mixture of humor amid sadness that make “The Outgoing Tide” so special.
For tickets to Bruce Graham’s “The Outgoing Tide,” being presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company and the Suzanne Roberts Theatre through April 22, call 215-985-0420 or visit www.philadelphiatheatrecompan.org