"The Outgoing Tide," a play that addresses the struggle of Alzheimer's, is appearing at Theatre Knoxville Downtown until Sept. 22.
Full of dark humor, socially relevant questions and powerful emotions, the play centers around a man afflicted with worsening dementia and his family.
"I find 'The Outgoing Tide' to be a very moving story," said Windie Wilson, director of the production. "The play's characters grapple with life's challenges – aging and illness, child rearing, marital struggles and the general complexity of family relationships. I think everyone can find something of themselves or someone they know in the story."
Those who have had a loved one stricken with Alzheimer's will find scenes that are all too familiar acted out upon the stage, actress Bonny Pendleton said.
"It's a personal play for me," said Pendleton, who plays Peg, wife of the protagonist, Gunner. "Alzheimer's has been in my family. The subject matter is so current. Almost everyone has faced this in some size or shape."
Written by the Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham, Theatre Knoxville's production is the first time "The Outgoing Tide" has been performed in the southeast. The play raises a bevy of ethical questions as it explores an illness often ignored by the artistic world.
"It brings up questions about whether people should have the right to do themselves in when suffering from an incurable disease like this," Pendleton said. "'The Outgoing Tide' is about Gunner planning to have control over leaving life."
Although the content is emotionally heavy, Pendleton said the play has its lighter moments.
"A lot of people consider it dark, but actually there's a lot of laughing and jokes," she said. "Basically the characters are trying to laugh instead of cry."
Wilson, who also serves on the board of directors for Theatre Knoxville as treasurer, believes one of the challenges – as well as one of the more interesting stylistic aspects – of the production is its interplay between time periods.
"The story moves back and forth between the present and the past," Wilson said. "I found it challenging to create transitions that effectively portrayed these varied time frames and settings in a confined space. Theatre Knoxville Downtown is an intimate venue. However, our lighting designer was very helpful in this effort and I think we were successful."
Located on Gay Street, Theatre Knoxville opened in March of 1976 and operates as a community theater on a completely volunteer, nonprofit basis.
"The actors aren't paid and neither is the board," Pendleton said. "We all build sets, clean toilets and vacuum. We're doing this for the love of theater."
Pendleton is consistently shocked that, although the theater is in its 36th year, many people still do not know of its existence.
"It always surprises me," she said. "We're located right there on Gay Street and so many people still don't realize it. The art in Knoxville can't exist unless we have patrons who support it. Grants have dried up. Funding for the arts is always the first thing to go. We have to reach a certain number of patrons per year to rent."
Theatre Knoxville is always looking for new members of their acting troupe and volunteers in a variety of other areas.
"TKD uses volunteers in all sorts of capacities – as actors, stage managers, tech assistants and backstage crew, building sets and props, distributing promotional materials and staffing the box office," Wilson said. "People can sign up on our website to get information about volunteer opportunities and to learn about auditions for upcoming productions."
"The Outgoing Tide" will be performed at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets range from $10-$15.
"Art enriches people's lives," Wilson said. "Locally produced art provides a means for people to connect with and preserve the culture of their community."