‘The Flu Season’ is worth catching
YOUNGSTOWN — “The Flu Season” is a mind bender of a play.
Will Eno’s script teases, challenges and provokes the audience. It has a lot of laughs, but trying to explain one of the jokes in this “pile of words” (to use the author’s phrase) is next to impossible.
It’s not for everyone. But for those who like the work of screenwriter / director Charlie Kaufman, best known for his scripts “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” Eno plays with form and structure in the same way. In some instances, he makes Kaufman look like a traditionalist by comparison.
One thing is indisputable, though. Pat Foltz’s staging of the production is excellent and perfectly suited to the Youngstown Playhouse’s Moyer Room space, where it runs through Nov. 19.
On one level, “The Flu Season” is a play about a play, narrated, interrupted and altered by Prologue (Matthew Mazuroski) and Epilogue (Eric Kibler). They seem to serve as the yin and yang of the creator (or the Creator if you want to focus on some of the biblical allusions). In a variation on the adage “Write drunk, edit sober,” the philosophy here is write optimistically, edit cynically.
Prologue introduces the play as “A Snow Romance” — a title Epilogue quickly discards for “The Flu Season” — and the action involves four characters, two patients at a mental institution (identified only as Man and Woman) and a doctor and a nurse who work there (identified only by their professions).
Man (Adam Dominick) and Woman (Nailah Thomas) quickly become a couple, and there is a connection between Doctor (James Hain) and Nurse (Jeanine Rees) as well.
The conflicts that threaten Man’s and Woman’s relationship are as random as the pairing itself. It’s designed to make the viewer care about the couple’s outcome and simultaneously question why they care.
Foltz expertly navigates the cross-currents of engaging the audience emotionally and intellectually, while still finding the humor in the piece.
The performances are uniformly strong. Mazuroski starts out so sunny and upbeat and slowly (and hilariously) unravels as he loses control of his characters and his narrative arc. Kibler is the perfect counterpoint — gruff and unsentimental, both fighting and resigned to the artifice of the theater.
Rees is entertaining as she delivers her lines in the clipped, chipper cadence of a caregiver, even when she often dovetails into stories about her personal life. Hain’s self-absorbed doctor, who spends far more time talking about himself rather than listening to his patients, also is effective.
Dominick and Thomas might have the most challenging roles of the cast as their characters take such wild narrative leaps.
The play works because of the skill with which they handle those shifts.
The set is simple but effective — four benches, each painted half black and half white; a geometric design on the floor that looks like something from a Saul Bass movie poster or the opening credits of “The Twilight Zone.”
Leslie Brown’s light design creates strikingly different moods on that set with its shifting color palette.
“The Flu Season” leaves plenty to think about. Who knows how different this review might be after my Epilogue has its say?