Sunday, July 5, 2015


By Toby Zinman



By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer



Bruce Graham’s fine new play, The Outgoing Tide, at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, is deeply moving and  surprisingly funny, a straight-talking, unpretentious meditation on Alzheimer’s  and end-of-life suffering: “Quality of life. Kiss my ass.”

Directed with invisible finesse and  strength  by James J. Christy, the excellent cast provides bedrock realism, refusing any of the cloying or maudlin possibilities of the topic.  The fact is, Gunner (Richard Poe), a tough guy who ran a trucking company and dealt with the Teamsters, is losing his memory and his mind; he still has enough of himself left to plan his exit, refusing to settle for years of humiliating deterioration in a “home.”  

His wife of fifty years, Peg (Robin Moseley) frets and tries not to let her exasperation show when Gunner repeats his request for pancakes for the twentieth time. The good Catholic girl she was has been sorely tested, but taking care of her family defines her: “It’s what I do.”  Jack (Anthony Lawton) has come to their lakeside house to visit—he’s in the middle of a divorce, and is unbearably aggravated by his slacker son, but also has to face the many painful grudges he holds against the father who was too often tough and mocking.

In the course of a couple of days, and with Graham’s gift for character-defining dialogue, we get to know these people and see it all from all three points of view.  Everyone wants a “Mulligan,” a golf term for a do-over, but people are stuck with the lives they’ve lived, the selves they’ve become.

The salesman dies again.  The Outgoing Tide struck me as a  re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, with every element in place: the insurance money, the father-son conflict, the long-suffering submissive wife, the head of the household losing his mind. Structurally, too, the influence is clear: memory scenes enacting past conversations, all softly lit and a filled with regret and revelations, punctuate the play. And like its iconic ancestor, Graham’s play is a profound meditation on married American men: “She’s not a truck, Dad.” “I wish she was. I understand trucks.”

The beautiful lighting (R. Lee Kennedy)  evokes the melancholy of a summer house in autumn as the year draws to a close. In the flashback to the night Gunner proposed to Peg, he assures her with youthful confidence and  painful irony, “If there’s anything we got, it’s plenty of time.” 

The play begins with Jack looking up at the birds flying south: “Knowing when to leave. Smarter’n people.” Near the end of the play, Gunner says, “We’re so smart these days, but too dumb to know when it’s over.”   Bruce Graham’s wise  play lies between those two remarks.

Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad & Lombard Sts. Through April 22. Tickets $46-59. Information: 215-985-0420 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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