Lili Taylor, the unnamed actor in the play The Fever at Minetta Lane Theater runs down the aisle and jumps on the stage to begin her 90-minute monologue (rant) and exhibits the only excitement the audience experiences; the play could use some fieriness. It’s not Taylor’s fault, though; Wallace Shawn wrote the play in 1991 and you aren’t meant to be excited but forced to rethink your life or your so-called privileged life and whether you have internal feelings for others suffering in the world and will help bring about change.
Taylor, the unnamed monologist, is traveling in a war-torn country. Today, it could be one of a dozen or more countries around the globe on the international news. The unknown location contributes to the desperation of the monologue. Taylor is in a strange hotel room, in a country “where my language isn’t spoken.” The rebels have cut off the electricity, and she lies in the darkened room, shivering and vomiting by the light of a candle. The character has become ill, not by disease, but by learning about unknown citizens’ execution that day.
Taylor’s character vacillates between the present and the past, feeling guilty and despair for the privileged yet mundane life she lived growing up. “The story of my life, my behavior, my actions, that’s a slim volume, and I’ve never read it,” she says. Can she feel the pain of the poor and those tortured or killed by Marxists in the country? Can her sympathy for the victims change the world, or is the knowledge and awareness of the evil and the sickness she feels while vomiting enough to make her content? Perhaps shivering, vomiting, and feeling sympathy could change the traveler’s dull life into a story worth reading. But, as Taylor’s character ultimately acquiesces to, it’s not her fault she has some money and will be back in the comfort and safety of her own country shortly.
The play contemplates the shame of feeling guilty about the world’s suffering. However, at the end of 90 minutes, viewers come away knowing there is little we can do to change if we only observe the plight, like the character. “The Fever” may be a call to action for some viewers and change your mind about being just a bystander to the serious poverty and struggling of the human condition around the world.
THE FEVER–Written by Wallace Shawn; directed by Scott Elliott, With: Lili Taylor.
Scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado; costume designer Qween Jean; lighting designer Cha See; sound designer Justin Ellington; Technical supervisor Hudson Theatrical Associates; Production stage manager Valerie A. Peterson; assistant stage manager Nicole Lovino; general management Baseline Theatrical. Running time: 90 minutes.