May 21, 2010

UT gets love sick with The Flu Season

Ever wondered what goes on behind the padded doors of a mental hospital? This weekend, University Theater takes an insightful look through those doors and into the relationships of psychiatric patients and their caretakers in a production of Will Eno’s The Flu Season. The play challenges common stereotypes of love and mental institutions.

Two parallel couples fall in love: two patients and their doctor and nurse. Through the course of the show, the patients meet, fall in love, and progress through their relationship. The doctor and nurse have a quirky romance, which is more classic than the eccentric—but realistic—one of the mental patients.

But do not think this is a typical “love story.” The play has very little in common Danielle Steele novels or Cinderella. This is a story about a more nuanced and grown-up picture of love than the kind we would find in a fairy tale. And in the end, the show is a bit depressing.

Director Tamara Silverleaf noted that this love is “a little more tired and more jaded, but still realistic.” The play itself is very candid, a fact that is augmented by the characters “Prologue” and “Epilogue” who give the audience varying views of the action that supply both comic relief and important information. These characters also add to the intimacy of the play—the audience is irrevocably drawn into the world of the story.

Love has never been a simple thing, and the actors do a fantastic job of conveying the intricacy of its connection and heartbreak. They also make the show incredibly engrossing; the audience undoubtedly finds itself immersed in the onstage action and heavy emotion. The patients (third-year Ellenor Riley-Condit as “Woman” and fourth-year Edmund Mills as “Man”) both have phenomenal stage presence and wear their characters well.

According to Silverleaf, UT’s Third Floor Theater has been “stripped to its bones” for the play. Upon the simply painted stage sit four chairs, two stools, and a table, which are constantly moved around to function as various furnishings. The many well-designed props in the show are cleverly brought out of filing cabinets onstage. At one point, IV bags turn into lights that make the dark stage glow and create a haunting ambience.

The staging of the play manipulates the space and takes advantage of every inch of floor and wall. On the back wall of the stage, a projector plays short movie clips of added scenery that consistently add details to the action of the scenes. While not played in a constant loop, the clips serve a valuable function in adding to the complexity of the production. The clips were tastefully chosen and in perfect synchrony with the play.

The subject matter is quite grave, though the script and actors handle the bigger questions quite well. The Flu Season promises to give you lots to think about, but not enough to put you in your own padded cell.