A CurtainUp DC Review
by Rich See
Part of Scena Theatre's six-play season, The Fever explores a nameless man's journey as he awakens on a bathroom floor in a nameless poverty-stricken country. Sick and alone, this "everyman" recounts the story of how he has arrived at this particular hotel where an execution is occurring outside his window.
Mr. Shawn's basic premise is: in order to keep the rich wealthy, one must have the poor remain in poverty. It's an interesting and insightful look at how the have's maintain order over the have not's. If we extrapolate it out to our own lives it can have some fairly disturbing ramifications on how we, wherever we are in the wealth spectrum, are "maintained" by the power elite. While not the easiest play to watch, and while it could be trimmed by about 20 minutes, it is still a thought-provoking piece of theatre that should be highly recommended. Not least of all is the one-man production's tour de force performance by Christopher Henley.
Director Robert McNamara has Mr. Henley twisting, turning, falling, crying, and then suddenly turning to give innocent glances at the audience as yet another scathingly pithy line about human decency is uttered. The two have created a character that is part Peace Corp volunteer and part Martha Stewart Omni Living Media. With a subtle and very dry humor that filters through the whole production, the juxtaposition is jarring as Mr. Henley comments on the state of the poor while returning to recount his own opulent dinner parties. The whole piece hits uncomfortably close to home.
Continuing the darker elements of the play, the set is a simple, cell-like piece with black walls, a light-up toilet, and one bare light bulb hanging down to illuminate the hotel room. Marianne Meadows' lighting design fluctuates between deep foreboding shadows and glaringly bright and fluorescent.
Mr. Henley is a joy to watch as he maneuvers an emotionally intense and heavily verbal piece. When he states "What did I think I was? This week's radical guerrilla?" he's roasting all of us and the small risks we take towards social justice. Meanwhile, the next minute he's saying "There's a reason I have money to give away and I'm not going to give it all away. I've earned the money and I can spend it any way I want - this is a belief our lives are based on." Again, he's shooting a verbal arrow right at our own ideas on charity and self-absorption. There is a slow dawning of guilt as the character becomes more fully aware of how individual choices can continue a pattern of disempowerment within whole groups of people, noting "Nothing is changing in the life of the poor." or "The rich make a choice each day. We all make a choice." or "I don't actually deserve 1,000 times more than the beggar." But even with this knowledge, the character at the same time realizes his own personal limitations with "It's a wonderful feeling to be rich in a poor country...to take a cab through poor neighborhoods." By the end, sitting in his small hotel room, the character makes the observation "The life I live is irredeemably corrupt. It has no justification."
Not exactly a holiday spirited play, but one that has an important message about understanding, compassion, and self-examination of our own motivations. All very much relevant this time of the year and at this time in our nation's history.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide