Outgoing Tide delights incoming audiences

For years, I have been singing the praises of artistic director Tom Holehan, who is at the helm of Square One Theatre Company in Stratford. So well does he know the plays he directs that he nearly always casts them perfectly. However, it is his insightful direction, and his understated signature that make him stand out as a truly gifted director.
Currently, Bruce Graham’s The Outgoing Tide exemplifies Holehan’s skills because he avoids sentimentality, which would have rendered this a melodramatic tearjerker. Instead, we get a realistic face-the-issues approach. Here is a play about a retired man determined to undo any offense he has caused his wife and son in the past. He regrets past mistakes and wants wife and son to understand that he loves them. He has decided to take charge of his responsibilities, deal with his failing memory, albeit in a most unorthodox way. In other words, he is a man with a mission. He wants to make sure that his  family is taken care of when he is no longer around.

That, of course, is easier said than done, especially because the family is a highly complex unit.

The son, who is in the middle of his own divorce and who is having problems with his youngest child, a teenager addicted to video games, doesn’t like being caught between mom and dad and their ideas regarding whether or not they move to an assisted living facility. Mom wants to move; dad does not. They currently live on Chesapeake Bay where dad still fishes. Because the season is about to change, literally as well as figuratively, they need to reach a decision. Each member of this family has their own ideas, but they need to come together and quickly.

Al Kulcsar, a true renaissance man if ever there was one, delivers a stunning performance as Gunner, the passionate husband and understanding father. There’s nothing phony-baloney about this character. Kulcsar strips away the maudlin and breathes life’s options honestly and courageously.

So too, Peggy Nelson as wife Peg delivers a most memorable characterization. Married for more than 50 years, Peg wants life to get a little easier. Nelson lets the audience see how hard Peg has worked at keeping home and family. Peg is the Everywoman. Family comes first. Nelson manages to ward off sentimentality even when she is most emotional. That’s not an easy thing to do.

Delivering what is probably the most challenging role is Damian Long as the son. Long’s character has to be handled carefully. If he shows too much emotion, he tips the scale to sentimentality. If he stays too far away from showing any emotion, then he becomes apathetic. However, Long walks the tightrope and delivers a spot-on performance as the son with a ton of weight on his shoulders. Long handles the role superbly.

Now that Square One is in a black box theater venue, the actors are most definitely up-close-and-personal. At any moment you could reach out and touch any one of these amazingly accomplished actors.

As for the set, Greg Fairbend, Frank Fartely, and Robert Mastroni managed to create a house that looks like a fisherman lives there. With fishing nets, fenders, lobster pots, rope, and life preserver, the exterior of the shingled house is divided into two sections which allows for the interior to be wide open in the middle. It’s an effective set that captures the ambience of a waterfront home while allowing the audience to peek inside at the more intimate kitchen scene. Well designed and well thought through, Clifford Fava’s lighting and Don Henault’s sound work like a charm in this excellent production. It plays through March 20. Box office: 203- 375-8778.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association.  She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com