The Outgoing Tide

 

Town Hall Theatre, Galway

ONE CAN hear the geese overhead and sense the lapping of water around the family boat, but neither is visible on Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set for the Concannon family home in Chesapeake Bay.

Yet both are essential constants on the journey undertaken by John Mahoney’s Gunner, Rondi Reed’s Peg and their son Jack, played by Thomas J Cox, in Northlight Theatre’s challenging production of Bruce Graham’s The Outgoing Tide.

Graham, formerly a stand-up comedian, was invited by director BJ Jones to write the script specifically for the seasoned Mahoney, who is on his sixth visit to the Galway Arts Festival. The play, which had its premiere a year ago in Northlight’s home city of Chicago, opens with a subtle element of surprise as the retired south Philadelphia working-class couple welcome their adult son home for the weekend.

The sparring Mahoney and Reed have nurtured a mutual on-stage trust after 30 years of collaboration. Difficult issues are leavened by both sensitivity and humour. So the wisecracking Gunner, who professes to understanding trucks better than he does women or children, exasperates all around him with repeated pancake requests.

Yet he can still skim a pebble with five hits over the sea surface, he can still recall where he first met his wife, and he is determined to retain dignity and control.

As both wife and son struggle with acceptance, Mahoney’s Gunner has already reached his own accommodation. “We are so goddamn smart nowadays we are too dumb to know when it’s over,” he says, angrily, of the impact of medical advances on quality of life.

Unhealed wounds open in a series of flashbacks, seamlessly introduced by JR Lederle’s lighting and Cox’s extraordinary ability to wind back the years. Jones was inspired in his direction by his mother’s own chronic illness and what he describes in programme notes as the “human cry for peace”.

And it is Mahoney’s last bewildered glance, that last cry of geese overhead and the fading noise of a boat’s engine, that linger long after the firecracker dialogue and the sense that one has no right to judge. Until July 21st