The Flu Season
Theatre Vertigo at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, 306-0870, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, through Sept 24, $15

Theatre Vertigo opens their new season with Will Eno's The Flu Season, a more-meta-than-thou slice of "contemporary realism" designed to remind you that the postmodern age is characterized by anxiety, awareness of the limitations of perception, and loss of faith in values.

The mise en scene is a psychiatric hospital, staffed by a deranged doctor and nurse. The patients are a pair known only as "Man" and "Woman," who fall in and out of love. Commenting on the action, and manifesting the play's latent self-awareness are two characters introduced as Prologue and Epilogue. As Prologue, who functions for the most part like a traditional narrator, Todd Van Voris' larger-than-life musings fill the stage with a heartbreakingly misplaced optimism. Meanwhile, Darius Pierce's vitriolic Epilogue channels Eno himself, a reminder that what we're watching has all been written by an anxious man sitting alone in a room trying to find the right words.

The action of the play itself seems muted next to these animated commentators, presenting a problem: it's hard to care about struggles of the playwright when we don't care about the play he's writing. By emphasizing the meta-theatrics, Vertigo has built a Tin Man of a production, heavy on wit and brains but without much heart. Ideally there would be a give and take between the intentions of the playwright, articulated by Prologue and Epilogue, and the characters themselves. When the relationship between Man and Woman fails, for example, we should feel clearly that this is a failure on the part of the playwright to conceptualize love. Instead, while Mario Calcagno and Heather Rose Walters as Man and Woman have a touching, childlike chemistry, their scenes lack urgency, and they fail to develop the momentum needed to carry them through their breakup and Woman's resultant suicide. Even the crumbling set serves as an unsubtle reminder that the stage and everything on it are mere constructs.

Vertigo's talented ensemble delivers tight performances and solid production values, but in the future I'd rather watch them than watch them watching me back.