Erik Abbott and Christine Probst continue to perform monologue “The Fever” at Konrad Café until 22 October
Photo: Mike Zenari
The Fever theatre review
Erik Abbott gives a mesmerising performance in the Actors Rep production of Wallace Shawn’s play “The Fever”.
Political correctness and the guilt of white privilege have long been the bane of the liberal middle classes. In Wallace Shawn’s powerful monologue “The Fever”, the unnamed narrator says, with no hint of irony, “the life I lead is irredeemably corrupt”. Indeed, throughout the play the narrator faces a dilemma. Remorseful for having led a privileged but actively dull life, after visiting a poor country “where no books are printed in my own language”, he suddenly feels physically alive yet equally wracked with guilt.
Raised to view life as a celebration, or at least to find beauty and humanity in inconsequential delights, like being given a sugar-coated bun as a child, the narrator dances uncomfortably between his appreciation of the finer things in life--he adores Beethoven and finds an ice-cream made in a revolutionary country “charming”--and the dawning realisation that the poor and the downtrodden are suffering horribly. He realises that, ultimately, it is money and the joy the “holders of money” find in their privileged lives that maintains the system that will keep the poor suffering interminably.
The play gives us the rich reading Marx and worrying about his description of “commodity fetishism”. They find some short-lived glimmer of guilt when meeting beggars and tortured revolutionaries. The narrator even imagines reaching out to befriend a poor family and momentarily feeling empathy with an abused maid being taunted with a plate of beans. But in the end they withdraw again to their fancy restaurants and exquisitely wrapped gifts, their taxi rides and their trips to the theatre to watch “The Cherry Orchard” (albeit with conflicted feelings).
In the Actors Rep production currently on at Konrad Café, Erik Abbott plays the role of narrator with consummate ease. The text is at times wonderfully descriptive, and Abbott’s natural delivery allows the audience to conjure up vivid images--an encounter at a bus stop with “someone with a very nice smile” and a t-shirt bearing the name of a revolutionary country, bug-ridden hotel rooms and the cramped, shiny-pink walled apartments of people who work menial jobs.
Shawn apparently performed the original show in his apartment to small audiences, simply reading while seated in a chair. But Abbott, directed with some skill by Peter Zazzali, lends the role great physicality. On a sparse stage he vomits in the bathroom of that bug-ridden hotel room, conducts Beethoven, gets beaten up and tortured, hangs from an iron bar floating in space…It is a fascinating and admirable solo performance, and one that I am confident alternate actor Christine Probst will pull off with equal success.
The text can be a bit wearisome and unnecessarily repetitive--some lines are simply redundant and a couple of scenes perfunctory or awkwardly framed (why Shawn felt it necessary that a man spouting revolutionary diatribe should do so on a nudist beach without making further use of this image is beyond me). But it raises plenty of themes that are supremely relevant some 25 years after it was first performed--at one stage the narrator talks about a neighbour who “boasts about fucking colleagues at the office on the boardroom table”. Only one person comes to mind when that line is delivered.
The play ends with the narrator asking: “Forgive me. Forgive me. I know you forgive me. I'm still falling.” It is evocative of the despair of Captain Kurtz’s final words--“the horror! The horror!”--in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart Of Darkness” (or, for those of a cinematic bent, Marlon Brando’s in “Apocalypse Now”). But “I know you forgive me” also conjures up images of Sally Field’s famously derided Oscar acceptance speech. White privilege demanding the comfort of recognition from their peers.
In a change to the previously published schedule, Erik Abbott will perform “The Fever” on 13 and 22 October while Christine Probst will perform on 15, 19 and 20 October. The show starts at 8 p.m. and lasts around 90 minutes with no interval. Food and drinks can be ordered at Konrad before and after the show.