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A CurtainUp Review
The Flu Season

A lot of down-time has gone by since the first draft was written, or, quote, composed. The new title{The Flu Season} stands for the fatigue, for all the sick-days wasted in coming up with a title at all
--- Epilogue, one of two narrators {the other named Prologue} whose comments sometimes do and often don't shed light on Will Eno's darkly comic and enigmatic play.
Elizabeth Sherman, Scott Bowman & Andrew Benator
Elizabeth Sherman, Scott Bowman & Andrew Benator (Photo: David Korins)
Intriguingly named and with a mission to re-imagining great works of the classical repertory and exploring the best of contemporary theaters, the Rude Mechanicals Theater Company has made quite a ripple in its six-year life. Last year it successfully staged Don DeLillo's previously theater-resistant Valparaiso (see link below). Currently, director Hal Brooks has taken on another challenging work, The Flu Season by Will Eno.

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.


The Flu Season
Written by Will Eno
Directed by Hal Brooks
Cast: Matthew Lawler (Prologue), David Fitzgerald (Epilogue), Andrew Benator (Man), Roxanna Hope (Woman), Elizabeth Sherman (Nurse), Scott Bowman (Doctor), James Urbaniak (Television).
Set Design: David Korins
Costume Design: Becky Lasky
Lighting Design: Mark Barton
Sound Design: Sloan Alexander
Composer/Music Supervisor: Mike Errico
Running time: 2 hours includes one 15-minute intermission Rude Mechanicals Theater Company at Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 E. 24th St.
SmartTix 212-868-4444
1/29/04 to 2/22/04
Mon, Thu - Sat at 8pm; Sun at 2pm --$15.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on Feburary 8th matineeperformance

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