Stretch (a fantasia)

ON A ROLL Wheelchair-bound Griffith, left, comforts Murray.

ON A ROLL Wheelchair-bound Griffith, left, comforts Murray. Photograph: Jim Baldassare

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

We all have sad memories of the hard drive that got away, but only Rose Mary Woods actually deleted her way into history. Nixon's ferociously loyal secretary, Woods claimed on the stand that an awkward phone grab made her depress an inappropriate button for five convenient minutes, thus erasing one of the administration's infamous 1973 tapes. The lacuna doesn't interest Susan Bernfield quite so much as the "stretch"—Rose's ridiculous, but repeatedly demonstrated, attempt at explanation.

We all have sad memories of the hard drive that got away, but only Rose Mary Woods actually deleted her way into history. Nixon's ferociously loyal secretary, Woods claimed on the stand that an awkward phone grab made her depress an inappropriate button for five convenient minutes, thus erasing one of the administration's infamous 1973 tapes. The lacuna doesn't interest Susan Bernfield quite so much as the "stretch"—Rose's ridiculous, but repeatedly demonstrated, attempt at explanation. In a weirdly sensitive homage to moral flexibility, Bernfield whittles Woods (Kristin Griffith) into a gorgeously limber fantasy, a woman both moldering in a nursing home and remaining sapling-strong in her devotion to Tricky Dick.

Bernfield's dreamplay—Woods narrates reveries sweet (a triumphant White House leave-taking) and sour ("I dream I am a Democrat!")—gets a characteristically handsome production from New Georges, made even lusher by director Emma Griffin's romantic compositions for strings and electric typewriter. The material itself doesn't matter so much: We get a wistful peek at both the perils of being a young stoner with no grasp on politics (Brian Gerard Murray, doing a fine job as a nursing-home orderly) and being old and watching a firm grasp start to slip (Evan Thompson, as a wheelchair-bound mensch). But it's Griffith we're there to see, marveling as she oscillates between va-va-voomy '70s amazon and her end-of-days self, a slumped and fractious grouch. The performance outpaces the political dilemma, the ethical issues and even the play. Woods herself is no match for it: It's indelible.

Living Theatre. By Susan Bernfield. Dir. Emma Griffin. With Kristin Griffith. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.