NEW YORK (AP) — In art as well as in life, watching someone lose their mind is an excruciating thing — even more so when that person is still physically vigorous, full of verve, full of humor. One can think only about what might have been.
So one might approach a play about Alzheimer’s disease with trepidation — how can it be anything other than crushingly depressing? The marvel of Bruce Graham’s “The Outgoing Tide,” a simple and beautiful play brought to life by a superb cast and directed with a firm hand by Bud Martin, is that it makes us smile, chuckle, even laugh out loud while still absorbing the full tragedy and inevitability of this disease.
It’s worth noting that nowhere in “The Outgoing Tide,” a Delaware Theatre Company production that opened Tuesday at the 59E59 Theaters in New York, is the word “Alzheimer’s” mentioned.
That doesn’t matter. It’s clear from the start, in an opening scene that begins unremarkably and quickly becomes shocking, that the gritty Gunner, a man in his 70s with the vigor and gumption of a younger man, is losing his mind.
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Imbued with gusto, humor and heart by Peter Strauss, Gunner is a man trying to take control just as he’s losing it. And so he’s invited his adult son, Jack (sensitively portrayed by Ian Lithgow, son of John) to his Chesapeake Bay cottage, where he lives with his wife, Peg. The family must be together because Dad has a plan. You could call it a crazy plan. He would call it the sanest plan he ever came up with.
Peg, in a wonderfully natural performance by Michael Learned of “The Waltons” fame, is a survivor. She’s the one who’s been keeping their lives as normal as possible, gently pointing out to her husband that the reason he can’t get “Cops” on the darned TV is because it’s not the TV, it’s the microwave. And Peg has a plan too. She wants to get Gunner into an assisted living home before it’s too late.
Gunner has a different idea. It’s tough to describe his plan without giving away too much of the plot. But it’s heartbreaking to watch as Gunner marshals his last moments of lucidity in a furious effort to make amends for past mistakes and finally take care, now and forever, of those he loves.