In a hotel room in a foreign country, pervaded by a Hopper-esque introspective loneliness, sits a man alone, cast in a sickly green light.
This man, a white, privileged first world sophisticate, is the unnamed speaker who drives the narrative in The Fever through a feverish monologue. The Fever was originally written and performed by Wallace Shawn in 1990, and has been interpreted in a new production for La Mama Theatre, starring James Wardlaw.
The play lives up to its name – it is like a feverish dream, performed as a monologue. It is as if one is slipping into the speaker’s mind – but you’re not sure if it’s a place you want to be.
The staging is minimal, true to the unconventional roots of the play, but Wardlaw doesn’t need an elaborate set to enhance his performance. His characterisation of the unknown speaker is intimate and raw, bordering on disturbing, and he owns the stage for the full hour and 45 minutes running time. La Mama Theatre’s intimate space is perfect for the performance, resulting in some confronting scenes as you wonder if the speaker is locking eyes with you and whether he expects you to actually respond to his questions.
The Fever holds a mirror up to the audience as it moves between criticism of our capitalist society and upper middle class privilege. How do we justify our privilege – being born at the top of the heap? It is a question that has immobilised the man in the strange hotel room and left him unable to meaningfully connect or communicate with others and he slips further and further into disarray.
Dark, self-aware and at times absurd humour briefly lifts the tone of the play. However, it is ultimately rather gloomy and requires close concentration as the madness progresses. It is not an easy performance, especially as Wallace Shawn’s message is not one that is comfortable to hear. The play could have easily been shorter, however, without sacrificing any of its meaning.
The Fever is as thought provoking and relevant today as it was two decades ago, and is definitely done justice in this iteration. It is running from February 22nd to March 5.