By Will Eno
Produced by Catalyst Theater Company
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
The reviewer plops heavily into his chair and fires up his Dell. He types in the basics. Playwright’s name. Producing company. His own name. He takes a pull from the glass of tawny port he had just poured and sits back. He wishes he had one of those orange jellies with the chocolate on it.
“Will 2007 be remembered as the year that Washington theaters decided to add value to their productions by giving their audiences two plays in one?” he writes. “With She Stoops to Comedy, In on It, and now The Flu Season, it seems to have become standard to have plays about playwrights writing a play.”
The reviewer looks at this ponderous opening. It won’t do. Quickly he highlights it and clicks ‘delete’. He half-remembers a Beckett quote. It would be a good way to open, he thinks, since Eno has been compared to Beckett. He wants to Google the quote to get it right, but once he gets on the internet he gets distracted. He turns to fightnews.com to check on the Mayweather/de la Hoya fight. He goes to the website to see if anyone had commented recently on one of his reviews. He has another sip of wine.
“Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness,” Samuel Beckett once said. Well, perhaps it is. Perhaps Will Eno, who the New York Times called “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation,” believes it too.
Certainly, the words in The Flu Season are as slippery as wet soap, and, when finally brought to ground, often as empty as soap bubbles. “Are your parents still together?” the man (Dan Via) asks the woman (Ghillian Porter).
“My father is,” she replies, thinking deeply.
Later, in group therapy, the man confesses, “travel makes me sad.”
“How, do you think?” asks the nurse (Ellen Young).
“How do I think?” asks the horrified man, believing himself now challenged to answer a question which has baffled philosophers from Aristotle to B.F. Skinner.
Of course, the man and the woman are mental patients, locked in a universe where not only words but all the things we cling to – mathematics, physics, memory – are suspect. But why are the nurse and the doctor (Jim Jorgenson) as unmoored from reality as the patients? Why does the doctor interrupt therapy to reminisce about some doomed romance from his past, or to describe his trip to Amsterdam? Could it be that causality itself – a thing sometimes weakly felt in real life, but the essential glue of conventional narrative – has been overthrown?
Morning. Coffee has replaced wine, and the reviewer stares at his half-completed work. Well, this isn’t right, this isn’t right at all, he thinks. Look at all those dashes. Who does he think he is, Nabokov? And here – he hasn’t explained that he liked The Flu Season, that he was delighted by it, that Alexander Strain was superb as the Prologue.
Yes, the Prologue. Well. The Flu Season has two additional characters, The Prologue and the Epilogue (Michael John Casey). They are there, it seems, to remind us that we are watching a play, and what sort of play it is. The Prologue, as in life, is cheerful and enthusiastic, and blissfully unaware of the Epilogue. The Epilogue, cynical and sad, knows the Prologue all too well.
Like the gods in Sophocles’ plays, the Prologue and the Epilogue intervene in the story. Dangerously, they involve the audience. “You, sir. Are you an optimist?” the Prologue roars, pointing directly at the reviewer. The reviewer shakes his head, dolorously, no. Could this possibly have brought about the play’s unhappy conclusion, in which a mental patient, against all reason and protocol, is in possession of a bottle of sleeping pills? No, it couldn’t – not even Peter Marks has that power. Or here, look at this: the doctor, on the phone, demanding that the parents drive out to the hospital so that he personally can deliver the saddest news possible. “That’s right,” he says. “Turn right at the giant ice cream cone.”
And now the reviewer, dangerously close to the end of his allotted space, must summarize. The Flu Season is a love story. And a tragedy. Neither the love story nor the tragedy make any sense. Just like in real life. It is mordant, and explosively funny, in ways that will surprise you. Catalyst has mounted an excellent production, for which much credit must go to director Jessica Burgess. The playwriting gods intervene periodically. Everybody, including the gods, is goofy. I think it must be a true story.
(Running time: approx. 2:15 with 1 intermission) The Flu Season continues Thursdays through Saturdays at 7.30 until June 2, with additional Saturday matinees at 2. All tickets $10. You can get tickets at 1.800.494.TIXS or at the Catalyst website.