At one point in Bruce Graham’s THE OUTGOING TIDE, Delaware Theatre Company’s 2012 October production, the character Jack, played by Ian Lithgow, explains to his mother — and, by extension, the audience — that the phrase “happy as a clam” is incomplete. The full saying is “happy as a clam at high tide,” when the water protects them from predators. The don’t discuss the meaning of the outgoing tide, but they, and we, know.
Under the direction of Bud Martin, the three-character play stars, in addition to Lithgow, Emmy Award-winners Peter Strauss and Michael Learned — a cast definitely deserving of the title “All Star.” The three play a nuclear family, with Strauss and Learned as the aging parents Gunner and Peg, and Lithgow as their only child visiting their summer house, where they now live full time. This is no ordinary holiday, however; Jack has been called to help his parents sort through some of the toughest decisions the family will ever make.
There is a lot of sadness in that little cottage, as cold realities come to light, but there is also humor that flows its way through just about every scene. Dark humor, to be sure, but the play allows the audience to laugh, even as they witness deep sadness. That it works so well is a testament to a stellar cast. By the middle of the play, things take a thought-provoking turn, leaving you to wonder where exactly all of this is going. It’s gut-wrenching and beautiful.
Along the way, the actors play not only their characters in the present time, but the same characters at different points in time. So we see Learned and Strauss as teenagers 50 years in the past, Lithgow as a five-year-old Jack, and other flashbacks. Some of the flashbacks are memories, some delusions. All are very effective. By the end, you might not know whether you’re crying from sadness or a kind of tragic joy — and it’s amazing.
THE OUTGOING TIDE runs Wednesday through Sunday until October 28th. For tickets, call 302-594-1100.
THE OUTGOING TIDE
by Bruce Graham
Directed by Bud Martin
Original Music by Patrick Lamborn
October 10 – 28, 2012
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE 19801