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)
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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.

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.


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