Light and Darkness: ‘An Outgoing Tide’ captures the good and bad of family relationships

Kevin Fewell, left, and Josh LeBrun in “The Outgoing Tide.” (Venture Out Theatre)

There’s a new theater company in town and its artistic leadership is apparently unafraid to open a play in the midst of a pandemic. 

Venture Out Theatre’s inaugural production, an affecting three-character drama called “The Outgoing Tide,” was staged for a limited, socially distanced audience at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre. A video version shot by Matt Maassel is available online through Saturday, Oct. 24. 

Bruce Graham’s two-act drama, first staged in 2011, tackles a heavy subject with a light touch. Set in a waterfront house on Chesapeake Bay, Graham gently guides his characters through a shattering crisis: Gunner, a retired teamster, struggles with dementia and his wife and grown son wrestle with heart-wrenching choices that can’t be ignored. At times Gunner is perfectly lucid. But without warning he can descend into a disjointed revery in which he relives episodes from his past and mistakes his own family members for people he knew decades earlier.

Kevin Fewell and Kathy Breeden in “The Outgoing Tide.” (Venture Out Theatre)
Josh LeBrun and Kathy Breeden in “The Outgoing Tide” (Venture Out Theatre)

Kevin Fewell, a fine character actor, anchors the production as Gunner in a performance that deftly balances the character’s anger and fear against his grim determination to end things in a way that will help his family and make up for some of his failings. That said, Graham’s script benefits from honest, inherent humor that Fewell captures brilliantly. The play is serious and sober but never a downer — at least in my book. Graham clearly sees the inevitable hard choices of life but with impressive skill celebrates his characters’ basic humanity. This may not be the most original play to come down the pike — we hear echoes of “On Golden Pond” and even “Death of a Salesman” —but it works its will on an audience.

As Peg, Gunner’s wife, Kathryn Breeden (Venture Out’s founder) performs her own balancing act as the character shifts from grim determination to desperate anger and is forced to confront her grief and reluctance to let go. Josh LeBrun as Jack looks entirely too young to be a middle-aged guy in the midst of a bitter divorce, but he’s a charismatic actor who delivers a precise, thoughtful performance that brings clarity to a complicated relationship with his parents.

Director Karen Paisley, artistic director of the MET, deserves credit for achieving admirable balance in a simply staged show on a minimal set. Maassel’s camera work is fluid and graceful, moving from medium shots to occasional closeups and depth-of-focus views that simultaneously capture close angles and characters in the distance. He captures the best elements of live theater — in effect placing the viewers amid the actors onstage. All the sound is channeled through the camera’s microphone. We hear the actors closest to the camera most clearly.

As the pandemic continues, we are likely to see more “virtual” theater. I, for one welcome it, mainly because it allows us to consider the stage in a new light. 

“The Outgoing Tide” is available for viewing through Saturday at www.showtix4u.com/event-details/40852.

Robert Trussell

Robert Trussell is a veteran journalist who has covered news, arts and theater in Kansas City for almost four decades.

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