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A CurtainUp Review
The Flu Season
By Elyse Sommer
Eno is young and less evolved than DeLillo, but his distinctive non-linear play dovetails with the Rude Mechanicals' adventurous spirit. Set in a mental institution where the care givers are every bit as disturbed as the patients, this play brings to mind the writings of the British anti-psychology maverick R.D. Laing. That's not to say that this is an expose of our mental institutions and its practitioners since that would imply that you're going to see a drama with a definable theme and plot arc.
The Flu Season is structured to focus on two non-participating characters who spend much of the play standing in darkness at the side of the stage. These two commentators named Prologue (Matthew Lawler) and Epilogue (David Fitzgerald) regularly segue from the sidelines to make observations not just about what we are watching but how what we're watching was written.
You might say that The Flu Season is as much a play about playwriting as what it seems to be about: A man (Andrew Benator) and a woman (Roxanna Hope) are committed to a mental health facility whose staff is represented by parallel older and supposedly adjusted characters, a Nurse (Elizabeth Sherman) and Doctor (Scott Bowman). The patients meet and fall in love. The seasons pass and man eventually leaves as he arrived, with suitcase in hand while the woman apparently kills herself? Or does she? Did any of this in fact happen or are Prologue and Epilogue just arranging and re-arranging words and scenes for a play which starts out entitled The Snow Romance and turns into The Flu Season? Are this romance and the changing seasonal landscape just metaphors for the audience to work out along with Prologue and Epilogue?
Clearly this is something that not only requires the audience to pay close attention but to be willing to forego expectations for easily comprehended characters and actions -- to suspend judgment of the often precocious metaphors and word play in order to appreciate the energy of this production and its actors, several of whom also appeared in Valparaiso. Even though The Flu Season is often as irritating as it is fascinating, and not as satisfying as Valparaiso the production succeeds for the same reason cited by Jerry Weinstein in his review of that play: It runs like a top. From the precision with which the actors attack their roles, to the overall direction, to the set design, it is consistently provocative.
Prologue, recognizing that this is a difficult play despite its often genuinely dark humor and beautiful language, states his hope that audiences will return after the intermission. If you stay, as I and the majority of the audience at the matinee I attended did, you will find yourself thinking about Eno's "love story" and Prologue and Epilogue's of ruminations for days afterwards. You'll see how, like Man and Woman and Doctor and Nurse we can't always control our journey's through life or, to use the playwriting metaphor represented by Prologue and Epilogue, steer our stories to a definitive ending.
Ths is not the play for those who prefer their story telling straight up, with a beginning, middle and upbeat ending, but adventurous theater goers will want to make The Flu Season part of their Off-Broadway theater season. At $15 a ticket it's certainly affordable.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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