note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Beverly Creasey
"You say you want a revolution....."
The Nora Theare Company is alternating Wallace Shawn's Obie Award winning one-man play "The Fever" with a delightful mini-musical "Bed And Sofa" through March 2nd. The two productions could not be farther apart. "Bed and Sofa" is as light and delicious as an airy blintze and "The Fever" is as heavy as an executioner's axe.
"The Fever" is Shawn's brilliant apology (not apologia) for living among the privileged. His searing rant on poverty and obligation, however, isn't likely to be heard by any but the already converted. Imagine Jesse Helms or Arlen Specter going to the theatre ... even to see "Annie" ... let alone a political "mea culpa" like "The Fever".
The Nora production playing at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre stars Natalie Brown (in a powerful performance) as a guilt-stricken traveller in a third world country who will never be comfortable again in her own. We all know full well about sweat-shops and political prisoners, but we manage to put it out of our minds. We see the bloodshed on the evening news, but we manage to turn it off and carry on with our own small, safe lives. Shawn (who has performed the piece himself) wants to remind us that horror cannot be denied so tidily --- that we shouldn't numb ourselves to injustice, as in psychiatrist Robert Lifton's definition of a defense-mechanism he calls "Psychic Numbing".
We see the labels on our sweaters that say "made in Honduras" --- but Shawn wants us to make the connection every time we get dressed. He wants us to be so deeply affected by the violence in that sweater factory that we end up on the bathroom floor, like his traveller, in a fever, distraught, throwing up inshame. Shawn's argumentation is deadly serious, relentless, lasting about two hours.
It is to director Adam Zahler's and actress Natalie Brown's credit that she can hold our attention rapt. But the problem with Shawn's writing is its humorlessness. The message begins to repeat after an hour or so. Although this is most likely intentional (Who is to say how much medicine we need? Shawn evidently thinks we need two hours' worth!), what you really need in a theater piece like this one is (as Mary Poppins would say) "a little sugar to make the medicine go down" or you're going to lose half the audience. John Lennon quipped in "Revolution": "[But] if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow." I guarantee that if there had been an intermission, most of the audience would have left: Wallace's stark, hard truth is just too painful to hear.
"The Fever" (in rep till 2 March)
THE NORA THEATRE COMPANY
performing at The Playwrights' Platform Theatre
949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON