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The Outgoing Tide
By Bruce Graham
Directed by BJ Jones

MAY 12, 2011 - JULY 3, 2011

World Premiere! Featuring John Mahoney, Thomas J. Cox and Rondi Reed.

In a summer cottage on Chesapeake Bay, Gunner has hatched an unorthodox plan to secure his family's future but meets with resistance from his wife and son, who have plans of their own. As winter approaches, the three must quickly find common ground and come to an understanding-before the tide goes out. This new drama hums with dark humor and powerful emotion.

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, including one intermission


Presented with support from The Lehman Family American Experience Series.
The Outgoing Tide
is the recipient of a 2010 Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award and the Selma Melvoin Playwriting Award.
Additional support from Nuveen Investments.

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The Outgoing Tide CASUAL FRIDAY - 6:30pm

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Scroll down for:

 - Setting & Set Design: A Collaborative Process
 - Detailed synopsis of the play
 - Additional Resources

EventsGet Behind-the-Scenes access IN PERSON with show-specific Special Events! Visit our Events page for upcoming The Outgoing Tide-related events, all FREE for Northlight Subscribers and Outgoing Tide ticket buyers.


BlogRead the Blog! Get the inside scoop with Northlight Blog entries related specifically to The Outgoing Tide.


Setting & Set Design: A Collaborative Process

Playwright Bruce Graham grew up in the Philadelphia area and continues to reside in Pennsylvania with his family.  Graham brings his knowledge of Philadelphia and its locality to The Outgoing Tide. The Concannons, the central characters of the play, lived their lives in Philadelphia, and during the events of the play, Peg and Gunner live on the northernmost tip of the Chesapeake Bay, the part of the Bay closest to Philadelphia. Gunner's linguistic rhythm comes from a boyhood in Philadelphia just as much as Peg's Catholic views on marriage and suicide come from the large population of Catholic adherents in Philadelphia.


In addition to the language and attitudes of the play, the set takes on the flavor of its locale.  Playwright Bruce Graham writes at the top of the play that the set is:


The Concannon home on the shore of the Chesapeake. It is not meant to be totally realistic representation since it will turn into other things during the course of the play.


Different levels. The stage floor is the beach. The others represent a dock, a porch, and the inside of the home. Characters do not have to be held to reality with speaking to each other; they can speak while moving in and out of various areas and times.


This is a very rustic area. It faces west and gets great sunsets. It is autumn.



The Outgoing Tide set design

While the playwright dictates some of what the production design needs to achieve, then the director and designers collaborate to come up with design choices that serve both the script and the director's staging ideas about the play. No design element is created without speaking to the other designers and the director in multiple meetings leading up to rehearsals.  Director BJ Jones comments on what he and scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge set out to achieve with the set design for The Outgoing Tide, pictured at right:


The set had to capable of achieving several locations at once. Its main purpose is to give us a flavor of authenticity while also being flexible. It needs to have a magical quality so that it can acquire a life of its own. Light and transformative materials (the set is made of wood and plastic) allow the scenic and lighting design to work together to transform the set. For instance, if lit from behind the set will look one way, as opposed to if the set is lit from the front it will look a completely different way. The materials are somewhat opaque, so light can transform them. One example is the dock: it is under lit to give a kiss of light that lifts us out of realism. The skills of lighting and scenic are collaboratively linked everywhere you look.



More About the Play

The Outgoing Tide centers around the notion of self-determination - not through the lens of ethics, or morality or politics, but through the story of one man's decision and how it impacts his family.  Due to the sensitive nature of this subject, we are providing a detailed synopsis of the play for those who would prefer to know the exact nature of the content before attending.  Read the complete synopsis here.



Additional Resources

The issues around aging that are confronted in this play are incredibly complex. As our life spans increase, medical research and laws protecting the elderly have to adapt. Since this is relatively new territory, here are some additional resources on a few of the topics thematically represented in the play.



Illinois Department on Aging

American Society on Aging

US Department of Health & Human Services - Administration on Aging

AARP - American Association of Retired People

Memory Loss with Aging: What is normal? What is not?




Caring Connections: information on planning ahead, caring for a loved one, living illness or grieving a loss

National Alliance for Caregiving

A blog resource for caregiving of all kinds

Alzheimer's Association: information on caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's and support systems for those who are looking for an understanding community

Assisted Living Care for Our Loved Ones


Elder Law Resources to Improve the Quality of Life for Seniors and People with Disabilities

Elder Law Care - information on estate planning, health care, housing and other financial considerations



 Thomas J Cox

Thomas J. Cox (Jack) is thrilled to return to Northlight, where he has appeared in Pride & Prejudice, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and three Interplay Series readings: Intelligence-Slave, Emma and The Outgoing Tide.  He is a founding ensemble member of Lookingglass, where he has appeared in over thirty productions, most recently as Hook in Peter Pan (a play).  Thom has been nominated twice for Joseph Jefferson Awards (Best Supporting Actor and Best Solo Performance).  Other credits: Rock 'n' Roll (Goodman); Elephant Man (Steppenwolf for Young Audiences); Fraulein Else, Raisin, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and, most recently, Orlando (Court); as well as productions at Victory Gardens, Madison Rep, Weston Playhouse, ITC, and a film for House Theatre.  Directing credits: Lookingglass, Eclipse, Piven, Weston Playhouse.  Film/TV: Since You've Been Gone (Miramax); Chi-Girl (Van Lier Productions); Brotherhood (Showtime).

John Mahoney

John Mahoney (Gunner) last appeared at Northlight in A Life and Better Late. He has starred in the Broadway revival of Prelude to a Kiss, Romance at the Almeida Theatre in London and I Never Sang for My Father at Steppenwolf. He has appeared in over 30 Steppenwolf productions where he is a member of the ensemble. He received a Tony Award for his performance in The House of Blue Leaves. Films include She's the One, Moonstruck, Tin Men, Primal Fear, Say Anything and Barton Fink. On TV, John starred in Dinner at Eight, The Water Engine, and the 5-time Emmy Award-winning series Frasier, for which he received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his portrayal of patriarch Martin Crane. John is the a recipient of the prestigious Sarah Siddons Award, only the second male (after Brian Dennehy) to be so honored.

Rob Belushi

Rondi Reed (Peg) returns to Northlight where she previously appeared in The Retreat From Moscow.  A Steppenwolf ensemble member since 1979, she won a Tony Award in 2008 for August: Osage County, in which she appeared in Chicago, on Broadway, at the National Theatre, London, and at Sydney Theatre Company.  She played Madame Morrible in Wicked in Chicago and on Broadway.  She can currently be seen on CBS's hit show Mike & Molly.  She received Joseph Jefferson Awards for Steppenwolf's The Fall to Earth and Waiting for the Parade.  Among her 60-plus productions at Steppenwolf include the Pulitzer-nominated Man from Nebraska by Tracy Letts, Sideman (also in Australia and Ireland); Picasso at the Lapin Agile (Off-Broadway, LA and San Francisco); The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Broadway); The Grapes of Wrath (at the National Theatre, London and on Broadway); and Another Time (with Albert Finney). Other Chicago appearances include Romeo and Juliet for Chicago Shakespeare; The Sandbox at the Goodman; Cabaret at the Marriott; and The Vagina Monologues at the Apollo.


BJ Jones (Director) is in his 13th season as Artistic Director of Northlight, where he commissioned and directed the world premieres of Better Late, and Rounding Third. Notably he has directed productions of Grey Gardens, The Price (Jeff Nomination- Best Director), A Skull in Connemara, The Cripple of Inishmaan, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. As a producer he has guided the world premieres of The Last Five Years, The Gamester, and Studs Terkel's ‘The Good War'. From Second City to Shakespeare, BJ has directed Pitmen Painters (Jeff Nomination - Best Director, TimeLine), A Number (Next), 100 Saints You Should Know (Steppenwolf), and The Dresser (Body Politic). Regional: Glengarry Glen Ross (Suzie Bass Nominee - Best Director, Atlanta's Alliance Theatre), Enchanted April (Asolo Theatre), and productions at Cherry Lane Theatre NY, Galway Arts Festival, Baltimore Center Stage, and Utah Shakespeare Festival. As a performer, Mr. Jones is a two-time Joseph Jefferson Award winner and has appeared at Northlight, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, and other theatres throughout Chicago. Film/TV credits include The Fugitive, Body Double, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Early Edition, Cupid, and Turks, among others

Brian Sidney Bembridge (Set Design) Chicago: Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Northlight, Second City, Lookingglass (production affiliate), Court, Ravinia, Drury Lane, Writers', Victory Gardens, TimeLine (artistic associ¬ate), Teatro Vista (artistic associate), among others. Off-Broadway: The Public Theater, Second Stage, Jean Cocteau Repertory, Kids with Guns and Theatre @ St. Clement's. International: Theatre Royal Stratford East in London, and CarriageWorks in Sydney Australia. Regional: Guthrie, Children's Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Alliance, Arden, California Shakespeare, Round House, Virginia Opera, Opera Omaha, Milwaukee Repertory, Madison Repertory and Circle X Theatre Co. (company member), among others. Production Design: Wallace Shawn's Marie and Bruce, Holding Out, Stray Dogs, and sets for Muppets from Space. Awards: five Jeff Awards, two Hewes Design Award nomina¬tions, two Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards, two Back Stage Garland awards, an Ovation Award, an L.A. Weekly Award, and was named one of the five most prolific theater artists of the decade by Time Out Chicago.

Rachel Laritz (Costume Design) is happy to be joining Northlight. Chicago design credits include various shows at Writers, Court, Remy Bumppo, and TimeLine. Regional credits include Utah Shakespeare Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Rep, Kansas City Rep, Illinois Shakes, Next Act, Chamber, Renaissance Theaterworks, Skylight Music Theatre, Children's Theater Madison, and the University of Michigan. Off-Broadway credits include Pearl Theatre. Other professional credits: NBC's Law & Order, American Players Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Garsington Opera, and the Spoleto Festival USA. Rachel is a recipient of a 2011 Emerging Artist Alumni Award from the University of Michigan and a 2009 Joseph Jefferson Award for The Voysey Inheritance (Remy Bumppo). Rachellaritz.com

JR Lederle (Lighting Design) Northlight credits include A Life, Grey Gardens, The Retreat From Moscow, Lady. and Better Late. Other work has been seen at Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, About Face, Remy Bumppo, Writers, Steppenwolf, and Walkabout. JR designed lighting for seven years of the Steppenwolf Traffic Series, and five Steppenwolf performances in Chicago's Millennium Park. He has served as head of the Lighting Department at Steppenwolf since 1995.

Andrew Hansen (Sound Design) returns to Northlight where he previously collaborated on She Stoops to Conquer, and Mauritius. Andy is an Associate Artist at TimeLine where he has been designing since 1999. Current productions include A Tale of Two Cities at Lifeline. Recent productions include The Normal Heart, 33 Variations, and Wasteland at TimeLine, The Liar and Port Authority at Writers, and A Christmas Carol at Goodman. Regionally he has composed for American Players, Indiana Rep, Summer Shakespeare at Notre Dame, and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.

Rita Vreeland (Production Stage Manager) Recent credits elsewhere in the Chicagoland area include Little Shop of Horrors and many other productions at Theatre at the Center; the annual Christmas Schooner (Mercury); and the world premieres of A Twist of Water (Route 66), El Nogalar (Goodman), and We Are Proud to Present... (Victory Gardens). In addition to stage management, Rita was the set designer at Harold Washington College from 2001-2012, and is a member of the Route 66 Theatre Company in Chicago. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to one-year-old Charlie.

In a summer cottage on Chesapeake Bay, Gunner has hatched an unorthodox plan to secure his family's future, but meets with resistance from his wife and son, who have plans of their own.  As winter approaches, the three must quickly find common ground and come to an understanding - before the tide goes out.

Photo Gallery

Click on any image to start the slideshow  Click on images to start slideshow

The Outgoing Tide set - DayJohn Mahoney (Gunner), Thomas J. Cox (Jack) and Rondi Reed (Peg)John Mahoney (Gunner) and Thomas J. Cox (Jack).John Mahoney (Gunner) and Thomas J. Cox (Jack).Thomas J. Cox (Jack) and John Mahoney (Gunner).  Rondi Reed (Peg) in background.John Mahoney (Gunner).  Rondi Reed (Peg) and Thomas J. Cox (Jack) in background.Thomas J. Cox (Jack), John Mahoney (Gunner) and Rondi Reed (Peg).Thomas J. Cox (Jack), John Mahoney (Gunner) and Rondi Reed (Peg).John Mahoney (Gunner) and Rondi Reed (Peg).Thomas J. Cox (Jack) and John Mahoney (Gunner).
John Mahoney (Gunner) and Rondi Reed (Peg).John Mahoney (Gunner)Rondi Reed (Peg) and John Mahoney (Gunner)._MSB2378_MSB2273The Outgoing Tide set - EveningCast of The Outgoing Tide with Director BJ Jones

Behind the Scenes of The Outgoing Tide

Behind the Scenes of The Outgoing Tide
Outgoing Tide - Scene 1
Outgoing Tide - Scene 2
Chicago Tonight
ABC News

Jones gives Northlight nod in Jeff nomination coverage

"Steppenwolf Theatre Company's revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is likely to be tough to beat in the category of best large production of a nonmusical (Tracy Letts, who played George, and John Mahoney, from The Outgoing Tide at Northlight Theatre, will likely duke it out in the best actor in a play category), although the Jeff Committee had no love whatsoever for another Broadway-bound show at Steppenwolf: Lisa D'Amour's edgy new play Detroit."


Read the full article by Chris Jones on chicagotribune.com.  Agree or disagree? Make sure to share your comments!


Play about end-of-life issues shows Mahoney at his finest

by Chris Jones
Chicago Tribune
May 24, 2011




Gunner, the memory-challenged central character in Bruce Graham's new play "The Outgoing Tide," is slowly losing his grip on the ebbs and flows of life. But whereas it must be tempting to play an elderly man suffering from the onset of Alzheimer's, or severe dementia, as a timid, nervous fellow, there is not a hint of that in John Mahoney.


Mahoney - whose performance in director BJ Jones' superb world-premiere production is, I think, the best work I've ever seen him do on stage - understands that the agony of suffering from progressive memory loss is not best reflected theatrically through trepidation and confusion. On the contrary, it is best expressed through strength. Only then do we understand what is being lost.


And thus, in a display of robustness that one does not typically associate with this most genial of actors, Mahoney shows us a proud, flinty man for whom the loss of lucidity is entirely intolerable. It is an exceptionally moving performance that hones in on one thing that family members dealing with loved ones in this all-too-common situation too little understand: the importance of dignity and personal pride.


"The Outgoing Tide," which is set on the shore of Chesapeake Bay, is, at its core, at exploration of how such a man as Mahoney's Gunner - forceful, well-prepared, a father, a husband, a kidder - can live with a seriously diminished mental capacity, and whether he is within his rights to not want to live with it at all. It is a very tightly focused piece about a family of three. Rondi Reed plays Peg, Gunner's earnest, straight-talking wife, and Thomas J. Cox plays his son. Events take place on a day when Gunner has called up his son and asked him to visit. Gunner wants to tell him about a plan to provide more for his family, and also to put himself out of his own increasing misery.


If you're in anything approaching this situation - with your parents, partner, or self - I think you'll instantly recognize how Graham zeroes in on recognizable truths.


There is the leadership vacuum that occurs when a powerful patriarch can no longer remember to wear his pants. And Cox carefully shows us the travails that come when a mild, only moderately successful middle-aged man must suddenly assert himself with his far stronger father, a relationship that is clarified through flashbacks that Jones interweaves beautifully into the action. There is the way that your parents' aging often hits you when you're least prepared to deal with it; you're stuck, perhaps, in a stressed-out slump of diminished career expectations and dealing with kids and a troubled marriage of your own. There are those tantalizing moments of normalcy, when you convince yourself that things are getting better or, at least, no worse. And, most moving of all, there is the impact of an aging parent on his or her spouse and the fundamental changes that take place, rarely for the better, in a relationship that may stretch back 50 years or more.


Which brings me to Reed. This is a quiet performance that's wholly the equal of the extraordinary work being done by Mahoney - and by Cox, for that matter. But there's something in its reticence, its truly agonizing reticence, that has been living with me since. As penned by Graham, Peg would rather get up from the table whenever anything being said around that table is painful. As she bustles around, rarely looking anyone in the eye, Reed submerges her famously forceful personality inside a woman whom we see, over a couple of hours of stage traffic, must finally try and face something. It is quite something to watch.


Gunner's desire not to live in a reduced way sends this play off into the thorny debates surrounding many end-of-life issues, which, in the final analysis, I find less interesting than the nuanced and very personal crises being forged by these actors. The play needs, I suppose, the dramatic tension posed by Gunner threatening to do one final, all-enveloping thing. But I confess to some resistance to that; in real life, when we are faced with the possibility of such loss, our tendency is to try and delay or soften it, rather than treat it as an all-or-nothing issue. That human impulse gets short shrift here in the interests of dramatic stakes.


But in terms of acting and directing, nothing whatsoever gets short shrift. This is a trio of towering performances, made all the more intense by the sense that any tower can, eventually, be toppled.


Read the review on chicagotribune.com.  Agree or disagree? Make sure to share your comments!


Two Tony winners, perfectly paired in ‘The Outgoing Tide'

Chicago Sun-Times
May 24, 2011




There is a special timbre to an audience's laughter of recognition, and it was fully audible throughout Sunday's performance of "The Outgoing Tide," the Bruce Graham play now in its world premiere at Northlight Theatre.


There also is a special sort of pleasure that infuses a production in which two veteran actors, who have long since put a high gloss on their craft, get to play opposite each other. And you certainly can feel that as John Mahoney and Rondi Reed, each a Tony Award winner, give an informal master class in acting as they play a couple that has been married for 50 years and is now trying to negotiate the volatile currents of the end game.


The storyline in Graham's play is an increasingly familiar one these days as people live longer and must deal with the onset of Alzheimer's and other care-intensie diseases. There are decisions to be made - by the afflicted person who still can make them, by the aging but healthy spouse who clearly will need help caring for a deteriorating partner, and/or by the adult children of such a couple - a baby boomer already in full midlife mode. And invariably that classic question will arise: Whose life is it, anyway?


Graham has crafted a skillful, punchy piece that careens expertly between the painful and the comic, features a number of laugh-out-loud one liners (delivered with equal aplomb by Mahoney and Reed), and very deftly incorporates some elements of surprise. And director BJ Jones, along with the ideally cast Thomas J. Cox (whose wiry build and gaunt face suggests he easily could be Mahoney's son), captures the play's shifting moods ideally, putting its many other concisely limned themes (the father-son relationship, the plight of the only child, generational shifts in attitudes about marriage), into sharp relief.


Set on the patio of a wood shingle cottage on Chesapeake Bay (Brian Sidney Bembridge's handsome architectural set is down payment worthy), the play begins as Jack (Cox), pays a visit to his "old school" Irish Catholic parents, and finds himself caught in the middle of their opposing choices.


Gunner (Mahoney), well aware he is losing his mental faculties, is fiercely resistant to the sort of assisted living facility his exhausted and frightened wife, Peg (Reed), wants to move into. And he has his own dramatic alternative plan in mind - one that would insure the futures of both his wife (with whom he has a loving but prickly relationship), and his son (a father of three, now in the process of a divorce). As Gunner puts it, he has "loose ends" to tie up, and he knows time is running out.


Mahoney, whippet thin, fast-talking and sly, expertly captures the brutal frustration inherent in advancing Alzheimer's, while also suggesting the innate irascibility and cruelty Gunner was capable of as a younger man. Reed is wonderfully transformed in this role - determined and feisty, but softer than usual, and lighter of voice, so that she truly suggests Gunner's youthful emory of her as his working class Grace Kelly. And Cox deftly suggests that Jack is very much the product of his parents' long-running emotional tug of war.


Read the review at suntimes.com.  Agree or disagree? Make sure to share your comments!



Powerful ‘Tide' flows into the human heart

By Catey Sullivan
Pioneer Press
May 26, 2011


Two reasons to love Chicago theater? Rondi Reed and John Mahoney.


As for the prospect of both Tony winners on stage together in a world premiere? This is reason for celebration.


The powerhouse pair don't disappoint in "The Outgoing Tide," a riveting world premier drama that's impossible to look away from even as it relentlessly delves one of the most terrifying - and perhaps terrifyingly inevitable - elements of human life.


That's the prolonged end of it, as drawn out by the almost inconceivable cruelties of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, afflictions that rob you of mind and memory, while keeping you tragically cognizant of all that you're losing.


The struggle for retired union negotiator Gunner (Mahoney) isn't so much against the inexorably escalating symptoms of the disease, although his daily battle to find the basic vocabulary words that keep slipping his mind and to cope with the frustration of mistaking the microwave for the television is intense, ongoing and enraging.


The real war for playwright Bruce Graham's flawed, exasperating and endearing hero lies in coming to terms with Gunner's harrowing future: He is becoming a vegetable, Gunner realizes.


Soon, he won't recognize his wife of 50 years. His lifetime of work, friendships and family will be erased. He'll be warehoused, diapered and forcefed alongside other mute, empty husks who were once vibrant, complex and self-sufficient people, He'd rather die, rails Gunner.


Gunner's wife Peg (Reed), has other plans, primarily finding an assisted living facility where they both can live and she can get some desperately needed relief from the rigors of caring for someone who is slowly, surely regressing to a second infancy.


So the stage is set for a wrenching drama of dwindling options, twilight years, and encroaching, unstoppable tragedy.


If that makes "The Outgoing Tide" sound relentlessly grim, we've done this exquisitely acted gem a grave disservice. Directed by BJ Jones, the piece is bitingly funny. The humor isn't the gentle comedy ingénues and pretty young things, but the sharp-edged, hard-won wit of a couple that's been around the block more than a few times, and whose deep understanding of life's oh-so-many bleak absurdities informs creates a pathos at once wise, rueful and instantly recognizable.


This is the humor of maturity and experience, absolutely nailed in a pair of performances that simply wouldn't be possible from less well-seasoned actors.


The third player in "The Outgoing Tide" is the invaluable Thomas J. Cox, who plays Peg and Gunner's son. In mid-divorce, he's visiting for a weekend and burdened with his own roster of personal crises.


Having secluded this trio in Gunnar and Peg's lake house, Graham proceeds to rip open ancient family wounds and unpack disturbing family secrets while parents and son try to figure out how to deal with their uncertain future.


Graham's opening scene is shocking, although you don't realize it until the final moments. If wouldn't do to give too much away, but the opening gambit of dialogue ends with a barb to the heart that completely upends your perception of everything that's happened and is startling enough to be gasp-inducing.


It also succinctly, powerfully lets the audience know just how dire the situation has become for Peg, Gunnar and son.


Mahoney has never been better. He's both bullying and loving, a tough old cuss whose decidedly old-school attitudes toward his wife and child straddle - as so many close family relationships do - a complex line that's constantly vacillating between love and hate (or at least, love and dislike).


Reed, hair turned a dowdy gray and dressed in shapeless housedresses, depicts a long-suffering but strong-minded housewife whose lifelong compromises haven't diminished the rock-solid dedication she has to the man she fell in love with at as a schoolgirl.


As the third point in the family triangle, Cox ably captures the all-but impossible position of a son pulled in two diametrically opposed directions by parents who each demand loyalty.


In the end, "The Outgoing Tide" is both steeped in sadness and the hope that comes from finding power in a situation that seems to render one powerless.


If you've got aging parents or are entering the final third of your own life, "The Outgoing Tide" will no doubt be intensely difficult to watch at time. But it is also the sort of production that's a straight-up gift to audiences: a fantastic script, brilliantly realized and going straight for the heart.


Read the review on Pioneer Press online.  Agree or disagree? Make sure to share your comments!



Read More Reviews!

Around the Town Chicago Examiner
Chicago Critic Lake County Journal
Chicago Now Splash Magazine
Chicago Theater Blog Talkin Broadway
Chicagoland Theater Reviews TheaterMania
Daily Herald Variety


Read reviews and press coverage of The Outgoing Tide at the 2012 Galway Arts Festival by clicking here.



Mahoney, Reed find ‘wedded bliss' in ‘Outgoing Tide'

by Mary Houlihan
Chicago Sun-Times
May 19, 2011


When Rondi Reed and John Mahoney first acted together it was 1980, and they'd just been asked to join the Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble. They played husband and wife in Alan Ayckbourn's "Absent Friends," a pairing that would occur several times in a variety of plays over the next 30 years.


So the fact that they're back onstage -married once again - in Bruce Graham's "The Outgoing Tide" at Northlight Theatre is no big surprise to the actors. In fact, Reed jokes on a Northlight video that they've been married longer onstage than she's been in real life.


"We've acted together dozens of times," Mahoney confirmed before a recent rehearsal. "I love working with Rhondi."


"The Outgoing Tide," directed by Northlight artistic director BJ Jones, is set at a summer cottage on Chesapeake Bay, where Gunner (Mahoney) has come up with a plan to secure the future of his wife, Peg (Reed), and son, Jack (Lookingglass Theatre's Thomas J. Cox). Gunner, who is dealing, not so gracefully, with issues of aging, gets resistance from his family members, who have a plan of their own.


"This is not a disease-of-the-week play," Graham, 54, said. "It's more about the family dynamic. About people wanting to be forgiven for things and loved and supported."


Graham, who says he's never seen an episode of "Frasier," created Gunner with Mahoney in mind. He could easily be a pal of Martin Crane, Mahoney's character on the long-running television show.


"Gunner is willing to do anything to make sure his family is taken care of," Mahoney said. "There aren't so many roles out there anymore for a 70-year-old, but this is a great one and right up my alley."


Gunner and Peg are a working-class couple from South Philadelphia - also Graham's hometown - who have achieved the American dream.


"I put working-class people onstage," Graham said. "I want to identify with the character. Doing that elevates the play for me personally."


Though the play deals with some dark subject matter, it's also filled with a dark humor that Mahoney finds compelling.


"It's amazing how much humor he puts into such a serious, not-so-funny story," Mahoney said. "There's weeping and wailing, but also lots of laughter."


"Bruce skirts the edges of touchy matter," Jones added. "He pokes fun at institutions like the Catholic Church and insurance companies. He's not shy in that regard."


Despite the barbs and disappointments through years of marriage, Gunner and Peg are still very much in love.


"They are not George and Martha," said Graham referring to the sparring couple in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" "They are lucky in the fact that they enjoy each other's company. This marriage has had its ups and downs, but at the end of the day they love each other."


While Mahoney seems a perfect fit for Gunner, it's Reed who will show another side of her stage persona, Jones said. Peg is the total opposite of her most famous role: the brashly vulgar sister, Mattie Fae in the Tracy Letts classic "August: Osage County."


"Peg is a woman who is meek and quiet and doesn't say much," Jones said. "It's a transformative role for Rhondi. Something we haven't seen her do here in Chicago for a long time."


Read the story at suntimes.com>




The ultimate role player:

As she settles into her 'summer job' in Skokie, Rondi Reed says she's thankful to have been pushed into key acting gigs

By Nina Metz
Chicago Tribune
May 18, 2011


After a quarter century of slugging it out, Rondi Reed, who currently co-stars on the CBS sitcom "Mike & Molly," has reached a career high.


TV gig aside, since 2005 this longtime Chicago theater actor has toggled back and forth between just two roles. That might sound deceptively modest until you consider the success rate of the titles in question.


Starting in '05, Reed was at the Oriental Theatre eight shows a week as Madame Morrible in the Chicago sit-down production of "Wicked." Two years later, she was in playwright Tracy Letts' darkly comic Pulitzer winner "August: Osage County," which premiered in Chicago and then transferred to New York. Reed won a 2008 Tony Award for her performance in that show as the overbearing, emasculating wife Mattie Fay Aiken, a role she later reprised in London in 2008 before returning to "Wicked" - the Broadway production this time - in 2009. Then she was back again with "August" last summer for an extended run in Australia.


Which makes her upcoming performance in "The Outgoing Tide" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie her first non-"Wicked," non-"August" stage performance in years - in Chicago or anywhere else.


"This is really funny," the Dixon native said over coffee before a recent rehearsal, "because people always say, 'Well, where do you live? New York? LA?' But the thing is, I do live in Chicago. I always live in Chicago no matter what I'm in." In fact, Reed said, she has maintained the same Rogers Park apartment for years. "I'm a single woman with a dog - I don't have a family with a mortgage," she said, referring to her 10-year-old collie-mix Boo Radley.


[SPOILER ALERT - SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH TO AVOID REVEALING PLOT DETAILS] After a mostly itinerant existence these past few years, she welcomes the easy commute to the North Shore for "Tide," a bleak comedy about an aging man suffering from memory loss who plans to drown himself in the Chesapeake Bay rather than wind up in an assisted living facility. The production opens Saturday and co-stars John Mahoney ("Frasier"), an old pal of Reed's. As they have so often in the past, they portray a married couple in the play.


"I used to joke that I was married to him longer on stage than I was ever married in real life to my ex-husband," Reed said. "And it's true, because we were always playing husband and wife for years." They first met when they joined the Steppenwolf ensemble in 1979 and have been close friends since.


"She's at my house every Thanksgiving," said Mahoney by phone from his home in Oak Park. "The very first play we did together at Steppenwolf, Alan Ayckbourn's 'Absent Friends' in 1980, was when we were first 'married,' and there have been so many times since. I really can't remember all the plays. We've shared a lot of stage marriage, that's for sure."


The pair is so close, they were roommates in Los Angeles for a time when Mahoney was taping "Frasier" and Reed was appearing in a West Coast production of "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." "We are just so utterly comfortable with each other," Mahoney said. Reed ended up living in Los Angeles for a number of years in the '90s, appearing in made-for-TV movies and guest stints on TV - her first job was playing fellow Steppenwolf ensemble member Laurie Metcalf's therapist on "Roseanne."


Though she enjoyed LA, it wasn't quite the right fit. "The joke is always: 78 and sunny, 78 and sunny, relentlessly 78 and sunny, and how I can possibly be depressed? But (being in LA) dials up the urgency of your career because you don't want to be sitting around," she said. "I worked - I just I didn't work as much as I wanted to."


Reed was in her mid-40s at the time. "And it became clear that it was beginning to drift towards the kids - it was all the 'Dawson's Creek' and all that stuff. It was all 14-year-olds. Gary Cole used to say, 'If you're old enough to drive to the audition you're too old for the part.'"


Reed moved back to Chicago at the tail end of the '90s - to her same Rogers Park apartment - and reimmersed herself in local theater. Money though, was tight until she landed "Wicked," which paid well - and paid steadily.


"I had told my agent years earlier that I wanted to do a big Broadway musical and he burst out laughing right in my face," she said. But when he informed her of the audition, she had a change of heart; she told him she was too busy and didn't want to go to the trouble of hiring a vocal coach.


"And my agent said, 'Just go!'"


Reed freely admits she needs some pushing and prodding at times. While she was doing "Wicked," for example, Letts started talking to her about his new play.


"Tracy wasn't just calling me, he was bugging me: 'Ron, Ron, I wrote this part for you,' and I was like, 'You know what? I'm doing "Wicked" and I'm really happy. I just bought a car for the first time in 12 years, I've got a little bit of savings, so stop messing with my gig.' And he said, 'Oh screw "Wicked" and the big money.' And then this whole chain of events happened, and I look back and think it was so accidentally fortuitous in a way."


Reed was referring to an unexpected and extended break from "Wicked" in 2007, when the show's producers decided to shake things up and cast a new actress in the role of Madame Morrible (after which Reed would return).


"And I went, 'What?!?' Panic. I didn't have anything else lined up. So there I was, out of work and depressed. So I call Steppenwolf: 'Hi, remember that play by Tracy?' I was begging for a job, basically."


She was resistant once again when the "August" cast was asked to transfer with the show to Broadway, until she got a push from, of all people, "Wicked" producer David Stone.


She even considered turning down the role on "Mike & Molly," which recently was picked up for a second season, because the schedule conflicted with her final week of "August" in Australia.


"I've had people say to me, 'You just need to get out of your own way and let your career unfold, because clearly there seems to be some stuff that's lining up.'" Looking back, she's glad she didn't pass up the TV work. "Compared to doing eight shows a week, however many weeks a year? TV is a cush job."


She jokingly refers to "The Outgoing Tide" as her summer job, after which she'll fly back out to LA with her dog to start work on the second season of "Mike & Molly."


"My dog is a jetsetter," Reed said. "He's a great traveling companion. He acclimates much better than me. He's like, 'Oh, we're in New York? Great. Oh, we're in LA?' He's just fine. I found this place called Pet Airways, which is one of the perks of making TV money. It's a lot more expensive than a regular plane ticket but it's an indulgence that I allowed myself, and he flew out there with a plane full of nothing but dogs!"


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