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/.
“Gretty Good Time” at the H Street Playhouse, 1365 H Street NE. Tickets are $30.00 general admission. Running time: 2 hours, including a 10-minute intermission. This play is not suggested for younger audiences.