The first live in-person play to reopen Off-Broadway’s Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village since the pandemic shutdown is a limited-engagement revival of the unsettling 1990 solo show The Fever by three-time Obie Award-winning playwright and actor Wallace Shawn (My Dinner with André; Young Sheldon). Co-produced by Audible and The New Group, the soul-searching stream-of-consciousness monologue is presented in the format of an extended self-examining fever-dream rumination, ignited in a lone traveler’s delirious mind by her illness on a trip to a poor unspecified war-torn country.
Performed by three-time Emmy Award nominee Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under), the provocative direct-address storytelling and moralizing are filled with the conflicting thoughts and memories that flood the character’s mind and make her question and lament, then rationalize and justify, her own fortunate life and status, in contrast with the abject poverty and horrific conditions under which, she now recognizes, too many people in the world suffer. She considers the violence and executions that plague human history and the present, reflects on why she is able to enjoy a life of security and privilege that others can’t, and ponders the ethical dilemma of what to do to make things better and the world more equitable for everyone, in a crisis-of-conscience internal debate that also implicates the elite theater-going audience as part of the problem. The hypocrisy of a for-profit theatrical production blaming the ticket-buying audience for having the resources to come to the show and to support the arts is evident.
Under the direction of The New Group’s two-time Obie Award-winning founding artistic director Scott Elliott, Taylor’s demeanor shifts from soft to impassioned as she moves around the stage, leaving the comfort of an upholstered chair to anguish over the noted human inequities and inhumane acts, at times holding her head and covering her eyes in moments of anxiety, self-doubt, and guilt. There are touches of humor and joy, as well, as she sets up the semblance of a room, reminisces about dinners with friends and holidays with family, and shares her belief that life is precious and beautiful, and her tendency, as a good person, to be kind and amusing to everyone she meets. Should she give away everything she has to those in need, only to become one of them? Or would that only prove the dictum that the poor will always be with us? There is no solution, only angst, and the quandary becomes repetitive well before the play’s conclusion.
Expressive lighting (by Cha See) and sound (Justin Ellington) enhance the performance, with an everyday costume (Qween Jean) and simple set design (Arnulfo Maldonado) that are intentionally pleasant and relatable to the privileged viewer, from the bouquet of fresh flowers to the take-out cup of cold latte.
In addition to its live performances at the Minetta Lane Theatre, Audible will also record and release The Fever as an Audible Original for listeners around the world (who can afford it and the requisite streaming device).
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without intermission.
The Fever plays through Sunday, October 24, at Audible’s Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, NYC. For tickets ($43-53), go online. Audible Theater requires proof of COVID-19 vaccinations and mask-wearing indoors at their theater for all audience members and staff.