Saturday, February 10, 2007

PLAY: "The Fever"

For a show called The Fever, this is a remarkably quiet work, wrought in anguished subtlety, and narrated from that dream space just before waking. Wallace Shawn's lengthy monologue is a treatise on the widening social gap between the rich and poor, and if it appears at first to be too studious, too much like a polite discussion at a dinner party, then you just need to give this viral work a few more hours to settle in.

Though confined to an armchair and often shrouded in a veil of darkness, Wallace Shawn has a rich presence, a gravely voice that brings the gravest gravity to the tale. He is abetted by director Scott Elliot, who breaks up the pacing of the show by bringing the house lights up allowing Shawn's character, The Traveler, to better address the audience. And it is an address, not to mention a way of preaching to a middle-class choir that is too frightened by the poor to bridge the widening gap between them. It is a personal political piece, a well-crafted lecture that has been sandwiched between dream narratives of a modern and poetic sensibility, and it is the sort of monologue we only wish our teachers had been passionate enough to deliver in college.

Some of the stories and words may slosh together like the red wine in The Traveler's glass, but for ninety minutes, you can't look away. When Shawn first speaks about Marx's definition of commodity fetishism, the words are instantly accessible, the meaning remarkably clear. It suddenly becomes clear that the subtlety of the play is working on an even deeper level: while we are meant to enjoy the performance of Shawn's work, it actually distracts us from the seeds Shawn is planting in our subconscious. His effacing demeanor--"My laugh was like a tight little cough"--and his "physical illness of indifference" are suddenly ours. Although the Traveler addresses the audience, frequently questioning the silent and collective "you," it turns out, by the end of the performance, that we are all the Traveler too.

We are that passive, exploratory person, and that's why the audience is invited to stand on the stage before the performance, to sip champagne with the author/performer, and to examine the very clear boundaries of the set (books and newspapers are neatly sliced to conform to the contours of this living room). We are that quiet, idly looking on man, and we have no-one to blame for the rising tide of injustice, the utter lack of morality, than ourselves. The Fever lives on in us, and while a play might not help the poor, the playgoer certainly can.

[First posted to New Theater Corps, 2/9]

No comments: