Saturday, January 13, 2007

Tangent of Tales

"The Fever" presented by The New Group at the Acorn Theatre, Theatre Row, January 13, 2007

I missed the invitation to join Mr. Shawn onstage for champagne when I arrived at today's matinee of his new play, "The Fever." Given the nature of the material, I couldn't help but wonder if that was part of the intended effect.

It was also difficult at first to tell when the "pre-show" ended and the play began. Mr. Shawn warns the audience against short people as dangerous. He offers examples that include Napoleon and Wagner. He then gave a quick overview of his vision of plays today, a clever poke in the eye at Stoppard's Coast of Utopia running at Lincoln Center. He makes the following points:
  • Plays are too long
  • Stages are too big, taking the actors too long to get in place for their next scene
  • Too many characters to follow, too many actors onstage
  • Too much preparation required to follow the story
  • Too many scenes
He then takes his place in the slice of a set (a clever execution of Pottery Barn/West Elm decor by Derek McLane along with clever lighting by Jennifer Tipton) seated in a leather chair accompanied by a glass of red wine. A one-man show, he begins speaking in total darkness, describing his illness during a visit to an unnamed country in the midst of a revolution. It is here that his "fever" gets the play going.

At times, he speaks in something akin to stream of conscious, but then veers into rambling a la Bette Davis but is generally more pithy than entertaining. He spends a great deal of time talking about the role of poor people and how their lot in life is controlled by the rich, which of course, is for their own good. Without them, how would the rich people know that they're still rich. (It was during this part that I wondered if I were supposed to feel like the poor, on the outside looking in during the pre-show champagne.)

It's a long one-act, roughly an hour and forty-five minutes during which Mr. Shawn never leaves the stage. His performance is quite compelling. He carries the audience along his tale from the fevered moments lying on the floor of the hotel bathroom, unable to return to bed, through his memories and visions (for lack of a better word) of his world. He captures the dream-like momentum and skillfully plays the transitions.

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