Expert cast blends laughs, pain in Cockroach’s ‘The Flu Season’

Cockroach Theatre’s "The Flu Season," a 2004 off-Broadway play directed here by Levi Fackrell, communicates such a communal sense of loneliness that it’s hard to shake off.

The first act is a curious bit of nonsense with dialogue that seems aimless. Man (Erik Amblad) and Woman (Mindy Woodhead) are under the psychiatric institutional care of Doctor (Taylor Hanes) and Nurse (Joan Mullaney). Prologue (Christopher Erickson) and Epilogue (Conrad Martin) stand on opposite sides of the stage, commenting on the action, frequently disagreeing.

Scott Fadale’s neutral-colored all-purpose room allows different scenes in different realities to interact. Man and Woman are dealing with some catastrophic mental issues, but their medical team doesn’t seem to be in better shape. The two pairs become involved, and by evening’s end, all that "aimless" dialogue makes sense. A tragedy occurs that results not in resolution, but in a realistic acceptance of what it means to be alive.

Fackrell has assembled an expert cast that gets many earned laughs and yet takes care of the sometimes devastating dramatic scenes.

Union actor Erickson as Prologue sets the tone with an impish, gleeful, toothy smile that prepares us for an unrealistic world. Woodhead as Woman seems genuinely disturbed. It feels like a very private performance, something we shouldn’t be privy to, because her internal pain is so exposed. Woodhead shows her character’s scars with every word she says.

Hanes projects the dignity of the respected Doctor, but there’s craziness in his eyes. (He seems less crazy as the play goes on.) Hanes stays inside character and never overdoes Doctor’s strange behavior.

And then there’s union actress Mullaney who never fakes Nurse’s ditzy, compassionate sadness and joy. She suggests, in her beautifully ambiguous, quiet final moment, that her character may be wiser than we’ve suspected.

Fackrell incorporates elements so seamlessly that everyone seems born of a unified vision. His command of frequent pauses would make Harold Pinter proud. Best of all, he and the cast seem to understand the belly of this script.

There’s a lot of the walking wounded about us, this production says; all we can do is be aware and, maybe once in a while, a little giving.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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