Opening its new and spacious theater in the Remington neighborhood---quickly turning from declasse to genteel---Single Carrot starts on a perfect note with Will Eno's The Flu Season, a postmodern play with enough epigramms, poetic flights, fables, confusing conflicts, and menacing blackouts to test any troupe. Master of the off-balance meditation, the Carrots tackle this elusive piece with aplomb.
A splendid cast brings this dream-like, fractured tale of romance and death to poetic life. Apparently patients in a mental asylum, Man (Paul Diem) and Jessica Garrett (Woman) wander through incoherent therapy sessions, monologues, and dialogues as they slowly awaken to interest in each other, then fall into a romance punctuated by absurdist one-liners ("I wanted to marry someone who I could bring to my dream house and then divorce "), which slides into a harrowing abortion (daintily described as "the procedure," complete with flowers and heart-shaped box of chocolates thrown in to ease the pain), and then ultimately slides into the suicide of the aborted mother, who no longer sees the point of the pain.
A punctilious pair of Doctor (Michael Scloni) and Nurse (Genevieve de Mahy) frame the suffering inmates with both humor and menace. As the therapy sessions advance, both doctor and nurse suppress the narratives of the patients and insist on hogging the time to tell their own tales of romantic woe and metaphysical confusion. Their own odd, rather eldercare romance breaks out to fill the loneliness between their skating outings, their outings to the mountains for a group photo op, and their disappointed walks to catch the perfect sunset---or is it the dawn?
An in-your-face and right-in-the-audience's-lap duo of Prologue (Dustin C.T. Morris) and Epilogue (Allyson Hurely) urges the audience to interpret the action differently. A preppy exhibitionist in his stockbroker suit and ready to wave a flag at any instant, Prologue provides an upbeat, romantic, loquacious interpretation of the rising and cresting romances. Epilogue in overalls has washed one dish too many and seen one too many romances where the same mendacious words("I love you forever," "You're the only one," "Wait for the dawn,") have been repeated over and over. In her cynical view, these efforts at love just happen like the weather. There is no final cause. Prologue's valentine-laced hope is lethal illusion.
The play's most intriguing characters, Prologue and Epilogue provide the play with its metaphysical bookends. Why is the effort at love so doomed to betrayal and death? Why is communication of the soul so difficult? Why is our rhetoric of love and of therapeutic revelation so often a stereotyped script, a jumbled mosaic of slogans and stock phrases, rather than an honest expression of persnal truth?
Prologue and Epilogue are also the guardians of the play as meta-drama. The confusion of the action is the failure of the playwright to bring his materials into complete clarity. The repeated surrender to cliche is what we all do, even in our most belles-lettres discourses. No matter how original, every love story is that same old story with the same hopes and promises that rarely survive the accident or the adultery or the abortion as it limps toward death.
The superb direction of Alix Fenhagen keep these various dream-like pieces of the play moving with dynamism. The stark set design byRyan Haase, the moody modular props by Ryan Haase and AngieMcNulty, and the alternately eerie and romantic score by Dan Cassin give color and surprise to a production that could easily turn static with such austere, difficult material.
This is not an easy play to watch and hear during its two-hour run. Thinking is tiring. But the dream-like images, the offbeat jokes, the questions about love, the testing of theatrical reality, even those strange words read out of the dictionary will stay with you through the night---and then some.