The Outgoing Tide
A sort of Ultimate Questions dramatization of Billy Joel’s song “My Life,” handled with that hit’s light but incisive touch and laced with its maddening self-satisfaction, featuring the sort of blue-collar Philly philosophizer who might have once listened to and loved it. Old man Gunner’s mind is going, a fact that sneaks up on us during the opening scene —a rapid-fire conversation about life beside the Chesapeake Bay with a younger man who’s trying and failing to skip stones on the water’s surface, just the way Gunnar’s disappointment of a son used to do. Oh, and the other thing about that conversation: admiration is expressed for the migrating ducks, who just know when it’s the right time to leave. Subtlety is not the point here, which is not to say that the play’s revelations, conveyed through present conversations and past events, are inelegant. Just that both play and protagonist are past the point of dissembling. Gunner, played here with warmth and generosity by Andrew Barnicle, is relatable, and appealing, and sympathetic, and funny, and pitiful, and frightened, and selfish, and maybe a little monstrous. Playwright Bruce Graham’s script is carefully engineered to suggest that his wife and son (and probably the audience) are much the same. And they and we will all have to answer those ultimate questions, many of which boil down to: what do we owe to others? And what can we ask of them? (Any sort of outside authority on the matter, represented here by the Catholic Church, is repeatedly dismissed, cuz they’re molesters.) Take it away, Billy: Go ahead with your own life… What’s really remarkable here is the tone, which is so sunny that you tend to forget there is a storm raging onstage — until the emotional thunderclaps hit.
Ongoing until Sunday, July 3, 2022