With “The Outgoing Tide,” the Portland theater company Good Theater explores the journey of life and death by focusing on the decline that leads from one to the other.
On stage at St. Lawrence Arts through March 30, “The Outgoing Tide” tells one family’s near-universal story: the toll of dementia on a marriage and the relationships among parents and their grown son.
It stars Broadway veterans Florence Lacey as Peg and Will Rhys as her husband, Gunner. J.P. Guimont, a veteran Portland actor, plays their 50-year-old son, Jack.
The play is set at the couple’s Chesapeake Bay cottage in Maryland. Gunner, a gruff retired trucker from Philadelphia, proposes an unconventional plan to secure his family’s future while dealing with his worsening dementia. His wife and son resist the plan, and suggest an assisted-living facility might provide a better solution.
“It’s really touching and very funny,” said director Brian Allen. “It’s a very important play that deals with all of this very honestly, from their talks of assisted-living facilities to in-home nursing, and how people who have dementia do wacky things that are tragic in the moment but humorous in hindsight.”
“The Outgoing Tide” was written by Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham. It was commissioned by the Northlight Theatre of Chicago, where it opened in 2011 and starred John Mahoney, best known for his role on the TV show “Frasier.”
It moved to Off-Broadway with a different cast, and has been produced in a handful of other cities.
The Good Theater production is the New England premiere.
Graham said he wrote it after watching his father deteriorate. He died two years ago. Graham wrestled with what was best for his dad, who was alone after the death of Graham’s mother several years ago.
Writing the play helped him process his own emotions, while also giving others the chance to see themselves and their families reflected on stage.
“It’s kind of weird,” he said in a phone interview. “I feel sometimes a little guilty making people cry. Thank God they laugh a lot, too. I think it’s cathartic. The greatest compliment you can get is when people recognize something from their lives. This is a situation a lot of people are going through. It speaks to a certain generation of people. I’m 57, and at the height of the baby boom. It’s a real dilemma to know what to do. These are not easy decisions.”
Allen, Good Theater’s co-founder and artistic director, hired an all-star cast for this show.
His first call was to Lacey, with whom Allen worked a dozen years ago when he staged a concert version of “A Little Night Music” for the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Lacey was cast as Desiree.
Over the years, Lacey told Allen she wished she had more opportunities to act in straight plays instead of musicals.
“I thought it would be nice for her to do a play, so when I was casting it I sent her a copy and said, ‘Do you like this play?’ She wrote back that she loved the play, and she totally understood the character of Peg. ‘I know this woman,’ she said,” Allen recalled.
Lacey’s claim to fame is portraying Eva Peron in the musical “Evita” more than any other actress. She starred on Broadway, and in the national and world tours. She also has appeared in “The Grand Tour,” for which she won a Theatre World Award, as well as “Hello Dolly,” “Follies” and “Les Miserables.”
Rhys, who lives in Maine, was featured on Broadway in “The Changing Room” and “Jumpers,” among others.
Guimont has appeared on Portland stages for many years and is making his Good Theater debut.
After the run in Portland, Good Theater will move this production to Hilton Head, S.C., with the same cast and much of the same set. It’s the first time Good Theater has traveled a large show, Allen said. It will play April 28 to May 11 at South Carolina Rep.
The folks who run the theater in Hilton Head visited Portland, saw a show at Good Theater and began an acquaintance with Allen.
“I think it’s a lovely opportunity,” Allen said. “It’s enticing to actors to know they would get to spend six weeks in Maine and then three weeks in Hilton Head. It’s more employment, and the second half of the journey will be in sun and warmth near the water, as opposed to the freezing cold that they are getting here.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: