By Mary Boyle
Aging is a certain and unavoidable fact of life, and caring for the elderly in our families is something every generation from the beginning of time has had to do; and yet, the way it is done, and the landscape it is done in, has changed dramatically over time—particularly over the past 50 years. While the wonders of modern medicine and improved safety, keep us alive longer, it also means we live long enough to experience the decay of old age: loss of mobility, memory issues, and long-term health problems. At the same time, family dynamics have changed; quite often, both parents need to work to support a family, and can no longer bear the burden of caring for an aging parent. The growing number of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home health care businesses attest to the fact that families are often choosing, or are forced, to relinquish the responsibility of care to others. What, then, is an elderly person to do when they can no longer care for themselves, but don't wish to be a burden to their family or to enter a care facility? This is just one of the questions to ponder in The Outgoing Tide, written by Bruce Graham and directed by Chris Flieller, at In Tandem Theatre in Milwaukee.
Gunner (James Pickering) and his wife, Peg (Susan Sweeny), have enjoyed a quiet retirement at what was once their summer home on Chesapeake Bay, but Gunner has begun to experience frequent bouts of dimentia. When their son, Jack (Simon Jon Provan) comes for a visit, his mother begs him to help her convince his father to move into a retirement home; however, Jack has already visited it, and he's not so sure it's the best place for his Dad. While Gunner has moments when he doesn't recognize his own son, he does know one thing for certain: he didn't work hard all his life to give his money to "a bunch of doctors," and he isn't going to be one of those "vegetables" sitting in a wheelchair. In fact, Gunner has a plan to make sure that he doesn't end up that way, but he wants Jack and Peg's approval. Will they give it to him? More importantly, should they?
While the topic may not seem like a good time at first glance, Gunner is quite the character, and he keeps the audience laughing throughout the play, often at his own expense. A blue collar, hardworking man's man who loves to fish and married his high school sweetheart, Gunner, played flawlessly by Milwaukee's own James Pickering, is easily recognizable—everyone has a father, grandfather or uncle like Gunner. In fact, all of the characters are relatable and familiar, and their experiences and struggles are the experiences and struggles of our age, making this production as personal as perhaps any play I've ever seen. Alternatingly funny and poignant, The Outgoing Tide forces us to ask ourselves difficult questions about life and death, and opens conversations that we all should have. People have asked me, "Is it a sad play?" It's not. That being said, what it is will likely look different to each viewer: thought-provoking, surprising, eye-opening—perhaps even hopeful and heroic. You have to see it for yourself to decide.
The Outgoing Tide runs through March 18th at In Tandem Theatre, located at 628 N. 10th St. in Milwaukee. Tickets are available by calling (414) 271-1371 or online at www.intandemtheatre.org.
About In Tandem Theatre
In Tandem Theatre, a 501(c)3 nonprofit theatre located in Milwaukee, was founded in 1998 by Chris and Jane Flieller with the commitment to produce exciting, innovative and professional live theatre by presenting creative and eclectic programming that enlightens, inspires, provokes, and entertains a diverse audience in an intimate atmosphere. Its name, In Tandem Theatre, reflects the connection between audience and actor, the audience and the written word – an intimate experience obtained when live audiences are engaged in strong storytelling. In Tandem Theatre is committed to creating innovative, exciting live theatre designed to inspire, enlighten, provoke and entertain a diverse audience through comedy, drama, musicals, classics and new works.