Influenza and the Misapplication of Cold Cream and Two Doors Down From Tip Top, Curious Theatre Branch, at the Lunar Cabaret. Like the Rhinoceros Theater Festival, what's best about the Scaffold Project--the Curious Theatre Branch's new initiative in developing the work of emerging artists--is that it encourages fresh approaches, bends boundaries, and upends expectations. And like the troupe's own work, the program's two debut productions are more concerned with uncovering subtext than presenting a slick veneer.
There's quite a bit of Beckett in Shawn Reddy's Influenza and the Misapplication of Cold Cream, an existential one-act in which a man recounts his first experience with snowfall and fragmented impressions of his mother's death. Reddy's words are potent and jagged, although the dialogue is often too elliptical to gain much momentum. But the tenuous interplay between the man and his female companion is vintage Curious theater--open-ended and fraught with obstacles--and Beau O'Reilly and Marianne Fieber fill the gaps in the script with their intimate performances.
In sharp contrast, Mike Hansel's Two Doors Down From Tip Top is almost pure narrative, a sprawling yarn about a group of eccentrics who converge upon a seedy bus-station watering hole. At nearly an hour, this one-act begs for more focus, but Hansel's naturalistic dialogue and sense of character--revealed in the fine chemistry between him and Michael Martin as two wayward souls--complement Reddy's abstract fable and offer balance in an evening of theatrical extremes.