I’ve been asked by a few people to compile my picks for the best central Ohio theatre in and around Columbus in 2015, and so that’s just what I’ve done. I didn’t start writing about and trying to see as much local theatre as possible until June, so there are some reportedly very good productions that I unfortunately didn’t get to see. This list is based on what I saw for the second half of 2015 with one exception – Short North Stage’s Psycho Beach Party from January 2015. I didn’t write a review for it, but the fun I had at that production is still vivid in my mind year later.
For a thorough rundown of my thoughts on each show, I have linked my reviews to open by clicking on the title of each play.
“Wouldn’t it be great if every time you really screwed up in life, every time you lost your temper, every time you did something really stupid, they’d let you do it over?” That’s the question one character asks in the Gallery Players production of The Outgoing Tide, a winning play concerning the decisions we make, our inevitable future, and how we can attempt to make up for past transgressions in the face of a bleak future. Did I mention that it’s also a comedy? Well, perhaps “dramedy” would be the right term, but by any categorization this is a play that needs to be seen.
The Outgoing Tide by Bruce Graham is about Gunner, an irascible old man suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. He still has his wits about him much of the time, but his lapses in memory and judgement are growing worse every day, putting a strain on his marriage to Peg. Their only child Jack comes to visit and finds himself having to choose between two very different ideas of how to handle the future; Peg wants to move them into an assisted living facility, and Gunner… Well, he has another solution in mind. As depressing as all of this sounds, it is actually quite a funny comedy, full of laugh-out-loud foibles, misunderstandings, and a generally upbeat examination of such dire subject matter.
Dave Morgan is a gift from the community theatre Gods as Gunner; he’s grouchy, funny, spry – so natural and likable in a tricky part. Mr. Morgan is the key ingredient that makes this production work; no matter how strong the writing, a performance of his caliber is needed to make us laugh and care as much as we do. Mr. Morgan is delicately subtle when showing the effects of Alzheimer’s, superior even to Julianne Moore who won an Academy Award for it in Still Alice (2014). His bio states that he is returning to Curtain Players after a thirty-three-year hiatus; welcome back, Dave, and please don’t stop performing!
Eve Nordyke is a good match as Gunner’s wife, Peg. Ms. Nordyke is at her best in the scenes in which she and Mr. Morgan act out moments from their youth, raising her pitch slightly and shrinking into a youthful bashfulness that is adorable and just right next to Mr. Morgan’s bravado. She reacts to what is being said to and around her extremely well, always appearing poised to pounce with little provocation.
Sean Brinker as their son, Jack, certainly knows his lines well; he sometimes speaks them in a way that spells out the punctuation, which is unfortunate. Mr. Brinker rarely appears comfortable on stage, and it’s a real shame as he gets to share it with such good cast mates but doesn’t seem capable of enjoying it. It’s not that he’s awful or wrecks the production; he is merely serviceable – a weaker link in an otherwise strong chain.
Director James F. Petsche is to be commended for keeping the tone in check throughout. This isn’t a play that belabors the issues at hand, and Mr. Petsche doesn’t allow any moment to linger too long. Sound designer Eric Ewing also deserves recognition for his ambient sound effects, the volume of the music cues, and for how transparent everything sounds; every line can be heard clearly, and the sound of the motorboat chugging around the rear of the theatre is well handled.
The Outgoing Tide takes a topic that could be full of maudlin tears and sloppy kisses and brings humor to it. It’s disarmingly funny and joyful, and that’s why it works so well. If one were to simply read the synopsis and see the key advertising art, it would seem like this is a cousin to On Golden Pond, but it really isn’t; it’s much better, actually. So much of life is funny in its absurdity, even death and illness, and plays like The Outgoing Tide help give us permission to find the humor in the situation to carry us through.