August 17, 2015

So much for genteel images of the 1918 Spanish flu. Kevin Kerr’s “Unity (1918)” can make any “Upstairs Downstairs” fan forget the tasteful expiration of James Bellamy’s febrile young wife in a grand bedroom at Eaton Place. “Unity,” having its United States premiere at the Gene Frankel Theater, is much more like a horror story. The flu killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide in less than two years. (AIDS has killed around 39 million, but over 34 years.) Mr. Kerr’s play focuses on Unity, a small Canadian town where life is normal at the beginning. Three sisters of marriageable age giggle over the contents of a book about sex. One sister is also preaching about the end of the world, which, she has established mathematically, will take place in 1918. Residents await the return of the town’s young men from what we now call World War I. When a young wife dies in childbirth, two telephone operators gossip about whether it’s sad — or a blessing — that the baby survived.