Scarlet Fever

Cover of "The Fever (Evergreen original)&...
Cover of The Fever (Evergreen original)

I can recommend Wallace Shawn‘s play The Fever. I recommend it this way: Want a really harrowing time? Go see Wallace Shawn’s The Fever!

Another moving performance by Jerry Levy, but wow – this play is a lot more intense and depressing than Marx in Soho. Good though – in the way heavy theatre can be. Cathartic. Though I’m never sure about catharsis. Is it not just the feeling of pleasure you get when someone stops hitting you over the head?

And The Fever hits you over the head repeatedly. It also punches you in the kidneys and kicks you when your back is turned. It concerns a wealthy Westerner going through a crisis of conscience while suffering a fever in a Third World hotel. In fast succession, his unfastened personality swings from tortured liberalism to fascistic rage as he both realises that his pleasant life is a root cause of injustice, torture and death in places he once avoided even knowing about, then pities himself for being burdened with this  knowledge.

No, we’re not really expected to like him.

But is this dream a moment of clarity? In his febrile vision, the world is a giant zero-sum game where wealth only exists because it is wrested from the poor by violence, where every surplus means someone else goes without a necessity. You can draw different conclusions from that. One of course is that the only possible solution is a radical, total equalisation of humanity.

Another is that there is no solution, and all you can hope for is to be on the winning side. And fight tooth and nail to keep your advantage because the alternative – that the poor and oppressed might someday get to exact their revenge – is too horrific to contemplate.

Or maybe that’s just me. The Fever is a rambling play for sure, it loops and leaps, and yet there seem to be patterns in it. A Rorschach blot – Shawn spills the ink but leaves conclusions up to us. And you will see yourself in this play. Just perhaps not the best of yourself.

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