Disability: A Comedy
The late playwright Ron Whyte led a fascinating life. Studying its highlights should give you some idea of what to expect from this very unusual, eye-opening “comedy.” Whyte was disabled and knew about wheelchairs from personal experience. He had a master’s degree in drama from Yale and a second master’s in divinity from Union Theological Seminary. Talk about a high-powered combination!
But don’t expect piety from this show. Whyte clearly possessed a wicked sense of irony and an iconoclast’s delight in posing questions we usually avoid, like “How do people in wheelchairs manage sex?” He liked pulling the rug out from under his audiences’ expectations. These traits are displayed again and again in this play, which he wrote about 30 years ago.
Disability concerns a 27-year-old quadriplegic named Larry, who’s living—or should we say enduring life—in a small upstairs apartment he shares with his parents. Though he can’t use his limbs, he has an excellent mind and a sound education. He quotes Nietzsche and listens to Vivaldi. He wants to get out and experience the world beyond. He wants to meet a girl.
Actually, he wants to get laid. So, he prepares a secret plan—placing a personal ad in a pornographic paper, among other elements—and pursues his goal like an assassin stalking an unwitting target. What follows is very funny, sometimes outrageous, periodically unsettling and intellectually sharp. This playwright likes surprises and isn’t afraid to visit the dark side!
Director Frank Condon also makes this a very interesting show visually. Actor David Campfield (as the hot-to-go Larry) tools around in an electric wheelchair that moves like a race car. Even though Campfield doesn’t move his arms or legs, he tilts his head rakishly, glowers with his eyes and makes excellent use of his voice. It’s a very animated performance from an actor who brims with moxie and frustration while never standing up.
Actually, it’s an excellent cast all the way around. Loren Taylor, a standout in many River Stage productions, plays Larry’s father. There’s a terrific scene in which he undresses and washes his quadriplegic son, chatting all the while. Linda Nalbandian fusses back and forth as Larry’s mother. She’s nosey but determined to help her son enjoy what pleasures life affords him. And Kristine David plays Larry’s love interest, who, like many elements in this play, is not entirely what she first appears to be.