Dallas — In playwright Bruce Graham’s opinion, dramatic literature needs somebody to root for. “It doesn’t mean they have to be a goody-two-shoes or Julie Andrews, but you have to have a rooting interest in someone,” he has said. He presents three contenders for that focus in his play The Outgoing Tide: Gunner (John S. Davies), Jack (Cameron Cobb) and Peg (Gene Raye Price). Marty Van Kleeck guides One Thirty Production’s presentation of this stirring and funny story of a family struggling to accept the unacceptable.
The action takes place in autumn on Chesapeake Bay. Jack Concannon has come to visit his parents in the summer cottage that has become their home. His father, an avid fisherman, is on the beach with fishing rod and bait close by. Jack and Gunner engage in a mundane conversation about nothing in particular. Where to buy the best bait…boating is better than jet skiing…Gunner dislikes Jell-O. Their conversation is a mishmash of familiarity and ordinariness. After a few minutes, Jack realizes he has not been having the conversation he thought he was having. Jack has been talking with his father, however Gunner has been talking with a nice man he notices on the beach. The audience does not become aware of a disconnect until Peg enters and tells Gunner the man he has been talking with is his son.
It is a potent opening scene. Graham, a former actor, has created rich dialogue, words on the page that sound the way people actually talk. The dialogue is recognizable, and evokes memories of family exchanges that irritate in the moment but become humorous in retrospect. Graham’s words work, but that is half of the formula. The other half is what actors do with the words.
Not once during the entire production does Davies play Gunner as daft, and that is a relief. Davies’ choice is established during the opening scene, so the character is never compromised. Gunner is a tough guy that believed in ‘old school’ methods of caring for his family and raising a son. This weekend however, he is rethinking some of his interactions with his son over the years and acknowledging that his methods might not have been the best. Davies’ Gunner is strong, rational and funny, but most of all, he is present.
Peg is the fixer and a faithful Catholic. She had to abandon her career dreams after marriage to Gunner and the birth of their child. Peg describes herself as having “always wanted to take care of my family.” She is still the counterbalance to Gunner with Jack. Price plays that inner strength of Peg, the negotiator facing her biggest challenge.
Jack’s family life is in a bit of a mess. The last thing he needs is for his parents to actually need him now, so he is reticent to accept the fact that his parents cannot be a refuge for him at this time. He is a little self-absorbed but he loves his parents and when they call, he comes. This weekend becomes a period of enlightenment for Jack.
This is a family. They love each other and they sometimes want to strangle each other. All three characters have vast emotional arcs and need to be in the hands of actors that will bring honesty to the roles. Davies, Price and Cobb achieve that and give us moments of striking poignancy. This is a story that any adult audience can understand.
For whom in The Outgoing Tide should someone root? Let’s just say the Concannon family is a little stronger when we leave them than they were when we first arrived.