Youngblood Theatre’s “Flu Season” in the hospitalFebruary 28th, 2012 |
Youngblood Theatre needed a cold institutional space for The Flu Season, Will Eno’s play set in a hospital psychiatric unit. As it happened, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has tens of thousands of cold, institutional square footage, in the recently acquired original Columbia Hospital complex at Newport and Maryland.
UWM has put some of that space, now called the Northwest Quadrant, to use, and contractors are at work in parts of it. But lots of it is dormant, with something of a Twilight Zone vibe.
Take the old hospital cafeteria, for example. Michael Cotey, Youngblood’s artistic director, did. During an interview in this space, Cotey, who is directing the show, spoke over the racket of a thumping radiator.
“I’ve found out that we can turn that thing off, thank god,” he said.
The dining area sports that robin’s-egg blue and scalloped-back chairs that some 1980s interior designer fancied as countrified and homey. It’s neither. The ceiling is probably 10 feet high, but feels low given the big expanse. The cafeteria is not a happy place, especially after months of vacancy.
“It’s working out great,” Cotey said, happily. “A space like this tries so hard to make you feel at home — and makes you feel worse because of it. It fits the coldness that creeps into the play.”
Youngblood has built tiers and put those ugly blue-vinyled chairs on them. They’ve built a big, rectangular playing space on a platform that rises maybe six inches above the blue institutional carpet. Cheap vinyl flooring covers the platform. A pair of fluorescent shop lights hang over the center of it. Two standards bear a few theatrical lighting instruments right and left off the stage.
“It’s a love story that plays out over flu season, fall, winter and spring,” Cotey said. “A man and a woman show up at the psych center for unexplained reasons. You can see a growing attraction. There are therapy scenes, and a doctor and a nurse. There might be a little bit of a romance there, too. Then things kind of go to shit.”
But there’s more that General Hospital failed romance to The Flu Season. As it turns out, the play’s the thing.
Characters named Epilog and Prologue will live in the half-light to the right and left of the raised stage. They speak for the playwright’s brain as it negotiates the writing process. Which brings a whole new dimension to the phrase, “of two minds.”
“Will Eno’s been called the Samuel Beckett of the Jon Stewart generation,” Cotey said. “The language is complex. Prologue is not even aware of Epilogue, but Epilogue is completely aware of Prologue. The end is there before the beginning.”
The play unfolds — or maybe jerks about — in 9 scenes in Act 1 and 12 in Act 2. Sometimes Eno sets it in a hospital and sometimes in a theater. Prologue and Epilogue function rather like narrators, but they can revise the play in progress.
“Eno sets up expectations and then turns those expectations totally on their heads,” Cotey said. “As the mood of the playwright changes, it affects the characters. Act 2 feels much different than Act 1. The story isn’t neatly tied up.
“Theater is such a strange thing, with all these little rules and lies. Real life has abrupt beginning and endings. If life can be like that, how do you represent that in a play? You can fall out of favor in a relationship for no reason at all — just because. That should be reason enough.”
The Cast: Man – Jason Waszak; Woman – Tess Cinpinski; Doctor – Greg Flattery; Nurse – Cheryl Roloff; Prologue – Andrew Edwin Voss; Epilogue – Ken Williams; Orderlies – Joanna H. Kerner, Mike Loranger.
Performance Info: Curtain time is 8 p.m. The Flu Season opens runs Thursday through Saturday (Mar. 1-3 and Mar. 8-10), Monday and Tuesday (Mar. 5-6 and Mar. 12-13), and Friday and Saturday (Mar. 16-17).