There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Gretty’s a crank, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. The title character in John Belluso’s Gretty Good Time is cantankerous, sharp-tongued, egocentric, verbally abusive even to folks who treat her well, and—largely as a result—excellent theatrical company. Having spent half of her 32 years bedridden with polio, Gretty (a splendidly splenetic Ann Colby Stocking) feels she’s earned the right to be pessimistic about her prospects, which in 1955 will probably include decades trapped in an iron lung. She also feels justified in being skeptical about the intentions of her caretakers—the nursing-home administrator, for instance, who claims he wants only the best for her as he plots to free up her bed for a better-paying patient. Her skepticism extends to the overtures of folks who clearly mean her no harm—a dipsomaniac dowager (Rosemary Regan) who distracts her with schemes for escaping the nursing home and traveling to Scotland (she makes it as far as Staten Island), and a young physician (Daniel Eichner) whose friendly compassion Gretty rewards with hostility and accusations. Pretty much the only person she doesn’t treat badly is a figment of her imagination—a Hiroshima victim (Caitlin Gold) whose reconstructive surgeries were featured on TV’s This Is Your Life, and whom she has since incorporated into her dreams. Still, Gretty can hardly be blamed for lashing out, or for wishing to free herself from a life she’s wearied of struggling through with the use of only one limb. “I want choices,” she says early on, while batting away the nonoptional options she’s being offered. As played by Stockton, who is herself disabled, Gretty is a tough cookie (a phrase she can’t stand), and the cracking of her protective shell gives the play, presented by Theater Alliance in conjunction with VSA, an international organization concerned with arts and disability, its dramatic arc. Belluso has a nice way with phrasing—“My surgeries,” says the Hiroshima maiden, “will make me look better and make Americans feel better”—and also with conceptualizing anguish, as when a wail escaping damaged lungs is reconceived as a whale heaving up onto a beach. But the author might also be accused of dabbling a tad too often in distraction for distraction’s sake, as he introduces the host of This Is Your Life and the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Their presence enables thematic links concerning society and disability, but Belluso’s play is strongest when dealing with Gretty’s real-world interactions with the doctor who seems her best hope of escape. The same goes for Jeanette Buck’s clean, well-acted, and determinedly unfussy staging.