‘The Outgoing Tide’ at Dayton Theatre Guild

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: (l-r) Matthew Smith as Jack, Barbara Jorgensen as Peg, and Peter Wallace as Gunnar in ‘The Outgoing Tide’


Bruce Graham appropriately has created a family that draws us, one way or another, into the most intimate of family issues, one that seems to touch almost everyone. The word “Alzheimer’s” is never uttered; instead, the uneven decline of a formerly brash, controlling man, used to getting his own way by any means, is sadly illustrated. Generally, the topic is often whispered, if discussed at all.

The Outgoing Tide debuted on Broadway at 59E59 Theaters for a short run in late fall 2012 to positive reviews. It was called “relevant,” “an important subject for our time,” and “poignant.”

Director Kathy Mola is working with the actors to “create” a family, the unit most usually and deeply affected by the unspoken illness, in Dayton Theatre Guild’s “The Outgoing Tide.” Peter Wallace is the father, Gunnar; Barbara Jorgensen the mother, Peg. Matthew Smith plays Jack, their only son, caught in the middle of the family dilemma where he’s been most of his life.

The conflict that has always been present in this family sometimes lurks beneath the surface, sometimes becomes overt. Flashbacks, that occur periodically, shed some information. They pop up, indicated by stage lighting and the actors’ demeanor, differentiating from the immediate scene. As the story evolves, each of the three family members is in the middle at some point. It is the shadow of having to make a life-altering decision that drives the action.

Audiences are caught up in the logic, or lack of it.

As she sees and comes to understand her husband’s decline, Peg realizes that remaining in their Chesapeake Bay-side house will not work and anticipates the likelihood he will eventually need more intensive care. She thinks moving together as a couple to an assisted living facility will give her backup care for Gunnar. She calls their son to come for support. Jack is dealing with his divorce and is caught between his wife and his children, in his all-too-familiar in the middle. Gunnar, still able to think and plan at this point even though his behavior is already unpredictable, immediately rejects the plan.

Like many families, they argue, don’t always listen to each other, and are sometimes frustrated. Most of all, this family, while touching on and then pulling back from facing necessary decisions, is full of humor. Fortunately, those flashes of wit lighten the reality, as well as the play.


Bruce Graham is the award-winning playwright of over a dozen plays. He is a South Philly product, originally a stand-up comedian. One-liners are his lifeblood. He has said his perspective is with the little guy who lives with the tough deal. “But most playgoers are upper-middle or upper class people who may not be aware,” he notes. “Maybe I’ll teach ‘em something.”


Early rehearsals are marvels of questions, decisions, and digging deep by everyone who is part of a production, both visible and unseen. The set designer, Fred Blumenthal, has finished his sketches, diagrams, and a set where, in this case, a house has begun to rise, not yet a home these characters can love. It’s made of reused materials to be completed, painted, and decorated. Theatre Guild people who enjoy many aspects of theatrical creativity will paint it and bring it to life. Gary Thompson will do the sound with lights by Margie Strader.  Patty Smith handles the tough job of stage manager.

Costume Designer Carol Finley has brought a selection of shoes and shirts for the son to try. They are similar, only a bit different in color or style. Serious consideration is given to each item by the wearer, Mola, and Finley before a decision is reached.  All choices subtly help establish the character.

Those are a couple of the tangibles. Much subtler is the actor’s process of thinking about and feeling the character. Each of the three actors I talked with early in the rehearsal schedule was extremely thoughtful.

Barbara Jorgensen, who plays Peg, says, “I’m still looking for this woman. She has to be patient; she gets angry and frustrated. It is very real-life. Where is the balance between caregiver and patient, between husband and wife? Where does she find a comfort level? The joy is working with this wonderful cast and director.”

“My father had Alzheimer’s,” shares Wallace, Gunnar. “But he was a very different personality, quiet, educated, witty.” Nevertheless, there’s always our lack of knowing or anticipating what will happen next. It’s a challenge to play this character. His anger over so many losses is important to understand, especially as he gets a brief insight of how he has affected his family in the past.”

Smith, son Jack, is equally thoughtful, feeling the elements of disparity that define Jack. Smith, too, is developing his character into a very complex person.

It’s no accident that the three feel a family-like connection as they seek to portray a family, torn and in pain, but with a history together. When director Mola held auditions, she tried different trios of actors, looking for an apparent cohesion. All agree she found it.

As recent visiting playwright Luke Yankee observes, “The Dayton Theatre Guild makes brave play selections.”

‘The Outgoing Tide’ opens Friday, Oct. 7 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 23 at Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave. in Dayton. Tickets range from $13 for students, $18 for seniors, and $20 for adults. For tickets or more information, please call 93.278.5993 or visit DaytonTheatreGuild.org.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Jacqui Theobald
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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