DISABILITY: A COMEDY -- In Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater through May 2.
The hero of "Disability: A Comedy," now at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater, is a 27-year-old quadraplegic permanently unable to escape the suffocating attentions of his parents or the confines of their crumbling New York apartment. He has accomplished no compensatory miracles. There are no upbeat conclusions to be drawn from his life.
The alternative ought, therefore, to be realism. A woman observer justifies her presence in the household by citing a desire to tell "what it's really like." And yet while playwright Ron Whyte carefully avoids most cliches of the situation, he falls into the worst one -- that the fact of disablement is not only the most noticeable thing about an individual, but also the only significant one.
Clever as Charles Janasz is in the chief role, his head tossing defiantly over his limp body, one is never convinced that the character has a whole identity. He's supposedly an intellectual -- actually, his adulation of Nietzshe and Vivaldi is so tiresome that one becomes suspicious of the depth of his scholarship -- but his mind never really rises from his wheelchair.
Leslie Cass and William Andrews are such marvelously maddening bumblers as his devoted parents that one begins to develop sympathy for them as doing their foolish best. But they, too, only exist is adjuncts to the wheelchair. The play keeps insisting on the parents' culpability, not only as overly-enthusiastic caretakers, but as villains with a sinister need for the satisfaction of this job. Christina Moore has some bright moments as the outsider, but she, too, is under suspicion for morbidity or worse.
For all of its caustic irony -- "comedy" is an exaggeration -- the play seems to conclude that no one in his right mind would voluntarily associate with its hero. He need not have been inspirational, but at least he could have been interestingly human.
The play will rotate at the Kreeger with "The Child," opening this Friday, which is about a couple considering abortion, and "Cold Storage," about terminal cancer, which opens March 15. Although all three concern proplems of the body, which supplanted the ill psyche in theatrical popularity for the last few years, Arena is not intending to suggest a relationship among them, but only to offer the benefits of genuine repertory to actors and audience.