THEATER REVIEW

Theater Alliance’s production of ‘Gretty Good Time’ is in pretty good health

A VISION: Ann Colby Stocking as the polio-stricken Gretty Myers and Caitlin Gold as the Hiroshima victim Gretty dreams up in her bedridden state. The production is part of the International VSA Festival.

A VISION: Ann Colby Stocking as the polio-stricken Gretty Myers and Caitlin Gold as the Hiroshima victim Gretty dreams up in her bedridden state. The production is part of the International VSA Festival. (Michael Dubois)
By Nelson Pressley

Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, June 17, 2010

“Gretty Good Time” falls in the tradition of “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” and “The Sea Inside,” grim dramas dominated by one charismatic, bedridden, hopeless character. Gretty Myers, 32, is a polio victim, largely paralyzed and facing life in an iron lung (it’s 1955). She reasons that if this is as good as it gets, maybe she’d just rather not.

The script is by John Belluso, a disabled playwright who died several years ago at age 36, so it’s no surprise that the dialogue rings true whether Gretty is hotly debating medical ethics or serenely retreating into fantasy. The Theater Alliance production at the H Street Playhouse — part of the International VSA Festival, a citywide affair anchored by the Kennedy Center — has its arid patches, but it’s clear and ultimately forceful, especially in Ann Colby Stocking’s fierce performance as Gretty.

We’ve seen this kind of physically damaged, emotionally guarded character before, of course, but it’s still effective, and that recurrence surely says something about ill and disabled people at the end of their rope. Gretty has had it with her diminished body, and Stocking is terrific at the various shades of frustration, displaying a dry wit and a ready temper with doctors and with McCloud (Rosemary Regan), a dotty patient who plans on breaking out of their nursing home and heading for Scotland. Gretty’s paralyzed legs keep her tucked in a hospital bed, but naturally she’s the most intellectually lively figure on the scene, and Stocking’s bitter sarcasm is as deadly as her quiet despair is moving. It’s a composed, impressive turn.

Stocking also manages the character’s German accent. The play intriguingly has this European refugee dream up a Japanese girl (Caitlin Gold) whose face was severely burned by the Hiroshima bombing. Remembering and forgetting emerge as key themes, as do surviving and letting go. These dream sequences are introduced by a young actor playing Ralph Edwards of the old TV show “This Is Your Life,” adding an insulting note of jauntiness to Gretty’s reveries.

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Daniel Eichner doubles as Edwards and as a handsome young doctor who brings flesh to the F. Scott Fitzgerald fantasies introduced by the chatterbox McCloud, and Eichner’s soft-spoken manner contrasts well with Stocking’s brusque style as Gretty. The normal doctor-patient relationship is transgressed, and the two actors are intensely careful together in the long, fraught silences when the doctor gingerly washes Gretty’s body — a tiptoe through the minefield for them both.

The austere medical setting smoothly transforms to imaginary realms thanks to curtains billowing and catching silhouettes in the background. Director Jeanette Buck’s staging is consistently artful and understated, and Stocking — disabled herself — supplies ample honesty and verve.

Pressley is a freelance writer.

Gretty Good Time

by John Belluso. Directed by Jeanette Buck. Set, Tony Cisek; lights and projections, Martha Mountain; costumes, Ivania Stack; sound design, Mark Anduss. With Field Blauvelt. About two hours. Through July 3 at the H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St. NE. Call 202-399-7993 or visit http://www.theateralliance.com.

 

“Gretty Good Time” at H Street Playhouse

June 7th, 2010 by Jon Penndorf · 2 Comments · H Street

Ann Stocking, Caitlin Gold, & Rosemary Regan in “Gretty Good Time.” Image provided by Theatre Alliance.

From the title, “Gretty Good Time” may sound like one of those frivolous musicals from the 1930s or a comedy farce originating from England.  The play, being performed at the H Street Playhouse now through July 3 and directed by Jeanette Buck, is neither of those.  It is, instead, an intimate look at the internal and external struggles of a woman stricken with polio in the 1950s.  Her nursing home room is the place where most of the physical action occurs in this work by the late John Belluso.  And while there are light and sarcastically comedic moments throughout the show, the tone is darker and more thought-provoking than a casual glance at the title suggests.

Gretty Myers has many physical struggles in life, but the audience is allowed into her thoughts and dreams in this work.  Actress Ann Colby Stocking portrays Gretty with great dexterity—acidic and brusque one moment, scared and alone the next.  Her sometimes jaded, sometimes yearning characterization is balanced by the young and equally uncertain Dr. Henry, played by Daniel Eichner.  Caitlin Gold’s portrayal of Hideko provides an interesting compare/contrast to Gretty.  Hideko carries around her own burdens, different from Gretty’s, yet their struggles bond them.  The cast is rounded out by Field Blauvelt and Rosemary Regan.  The scenic design is appropriately austere, but the lighting designed by Martha Mountain truly helps to set tone and provides some understated but important visual effects.

The ultimate questions in this play are both timeless and timely.  While the play takes place in the 1950s, the themes are just as relevant today—ownership over one’s own body, where medicine and ethics take up and leave off, and how we deal with realities we cannot change.  Whether it’s a polio-stricken paraplegic fifty years ago or a more contemporary quality of life issue, “Gretty Good Time” provides a provocative commentary on how the world views someone with a disability, and how a disabled person views the world that views her.

As a side-note, I had not visited the H Street Playhouse before, and was pleasantly surprised to find an adaptable black-box theatre situated inside a historic building (built in 1928 as a car showroom and later converted into a small movie theatre).  Seating what I’d estimate at about 100 people, there isn’t a bad seat to be found.

“Gretty Good Time” is being produced by the Theater Alliance in conjunction with the International VSA Festival on Arts and Disability.  From June 6 through June 12, theater, music, dance, film, and graphic arts will be performed and displayed at venues throughout Washington, DC.  The pieces and artists celebrate the diversity of humanity, and this year’s festival represents the largest gathering of artists with disabilities ever.  More information on the festival can be found at http://www.vsartsfestival.org/.