THE OUTGOING TIDE
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 20
Where: Matilija Auditorium, 703 El Paseo Road, Ojai
Information: www.OjaiTheater.org or (310) 497-2248
“I’ve watched community theater struggle financially,” says actor Peter Strauss, ahead of his one-night-only staged reading of “The Outgoing Tide.” The Bruce Graham play will be performed as a benefit for Ojai’s well loved Ojai Art Center Theater. The actor has called Ojai home since 1986.
“Little theaters as you know don’t make a lot of money,” he continues. “And Ojai Art Center has one or two Equity stars and then the rest are absolute die-hard, passionate volunteers. I’ve seen the shows, and everybody there is fully committed. It reminds me that (a place like this) is where I started. So I really wanted to put on a benefit.”
Strauss performed the play off-Broadway some years ago and through it did not get the shot he think it deserved–New York critics were “snobbish,” maybe the casting “wasn’t perfect”–it still haunts him.
“Inherently I knew it was an extraordinary play,” he says. “I’ve seen its effect on audiences.” He’s been looking for that angel producer to give it a proper run, and he’s been assembling perfect co-stars in his head since then. Recently he finished a reading of the play with Marsha Mason at the Players Club in New York, an then one at Bucks County Playhouse where they are still considering a production.
For this he is starring and directing as Gunner, a crotchety retiree who looks in the face of impending death and says no, he is going to go out the way he wants. That’s news to his wife of 50 years, Peg, played by Jean Smart, and his son Jack, played by Michael Nathanson. Michael Addison narrates the stage directions.
“This is an extraordinary play about the power of love, regrets, forgiveness and letting go,” Strauss says in a press release. “It’s profound in a manner that only theater can offer.”
He adds in interview: “It’s a role of a lifetime for me…and the play is a combination of comedy and pathos and is absolutely beautiful.”
Jean Smart and Strauss worked together many years ago on a 1980‘s family film called “The Yearling,” and so this benefit has acted as a cheerful reunion. And at the Marsha Mason reading, Michael Nathanson took time out of his run performing in “Oklahoma!” to play the son. “I begged him to find a way to come out for the weekend,” he said.
Strauss’ history with Ojai is interesting. He originally visited to meet Mary Steenburgen, then married to Malcolm Macdowell, as both were about to fly out to Europe to shoot “Tender Is the Night” for the BBC.
“It was one of those days when it was 190 degrees, and I thought I had ventured into Hades,” he says. “But Malcolm had heard of a house that was for sale and thought I’d love it. So when I returned from Europe I saw it and fell in love it. Only problem is that it came with a farm.”
No problem: Strauss learned to farm and “produced 400 tons of oranges a year,” he says. He also got hooked on working in the greenhouse and has a very specific hobby: collected plants from Namibia.
And though there’s been some tradeoffs regarding Hollywood, he wouldn’t have it any other way. So consider this a gift back to Ojai.
“We need these moments in theater,” he says. “We need a chance to feel deeply.”