Single Carrot Theatre opens new venue with a 'Flu' worth catching

Single Carrot Theatre opens new venue with a 'Flu' worth catching
(Britt Olsen-Ecker)

The good vibrations inside Single Carrot Theatre's new home in Remington are infectious — all the more apt considering that the inaugural production is called "The Flu Season."

Stepping into the venue, which once housed a tire repair shop, is a lift in itself. The place is such a far cry from the tiny spot at Load of Fun on North Avenue, where the company had its longest residency. There's even an honest-to-goodness lobby; the one at Load of Fun seemed to be about three square feet.

More important, the high-ceilinged, black-box performance space promises terrific flexibility, while retaining a sense of intimacy.

The theater has certainly been put to effective use for the staging of "The Flu Season," a 2003 play by Will Eno that doesn't make anything easy for performers or audiences. This is the sort of heady, elusive work that can bring out the best in Single Carrot — and does.

As New York Times critic Charles Isherwood so perfectly put it, Eno "might be called a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation." The playwright is preoccupied with the perennial questions of existence and the myriad pressures and rewards of love, but he also has a wicked sense of humor that keeps jumping out at you in unexpected ways.

Consider, for example, how one character describes a scene in his head: "Sometimes I see a rickety little house with broken shutters and a tiny swimming pool and I think, 'I'd like to get married, and then get divorced and then live there.' But I never met the right person."

There is no neat, linear narrative to grab on to in "The Flu Season," which takes place in "a sort of hospital," as the character identified as Prologue puts it. He tends to be verbally colorful and a bit long-winded. His counterpart, Epilogue, is more the cynical, cut-to-the-quick type.

These two figures weave in and out of the play to deliver conflicting takes on the action, so there really is no one way to interpret what happens — or doesn't happen — to the folks inside an apparent mental institution. There, two patients, Man and Woman, form a relationship; two staffers, Doctor and Nurse, do the same. Or do they?

To keep things even more unsettled, this is not just a play, but a play about a play. You end up considering different answers, angles and sympathies as scenes unfold. You are kept continually off balance.

If there's one company in town that thrives on being off balance (in the best sense of the term, of course), it's Single Carrot. And this production, directed with an imaginative touch by Alix Fenhagen, proves to be involving from its first moments, played in darkness, to its quizzical end.

Eno's artfully crafted dialogue is delivered with considerable finesse and nuance by a well-matched cast.

Dustin C.T. Morris savors the often florid lines of Prologue. He is just as adept at revealing pain and confusion when things start going awry, and he is left to wonder, "Maybe someone will say something kind."

Allyson Harkey does likewise effective work as Epilogue, no time more so than when delivering such chilling observations as, "People get cancer on soft summer evenings, sitting by the radio, looking up words in a dictionary."

There are subtle, telling performances from Jessica Garrett (Woman) and Paul Diem (Man). Each expresses as much with their eyes as with their words, capturing the awkwardness of trying to connect with another human being and the complications of succeeding.

Michael Salconi and Genevieve de Mahy tap neatly into the quirks and complications of the Doctor and Nurse, who are as much in need of analysis as the patients.

The raked stage, designed by Ryan Haase, emphasizes the precipitous condition shared by everyone in this strange world. And Dan Cassin's subtle music adds effective atmosphere to this study in relationships, perceptions and fears.

"The Flu Season" is an elusive play, but this staging ensures that you'll carry parts of it home with you.