The illness has now incubated for more than a year, and Mitchell Thomas’ delivery of the unyielding monologue The Fever Saturday night was contagious. Following playwright Wallace Shawn’s own approach twenty years ago, Thomas first performed The Fever last year in private living rooms for small audiences in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Spokane and even London. But this week the quarantine was breached, and the gyrations of the nameless narrator, made sick by his own hypocrisy, went public at Westmont’s Porter Theater black box ‘The Space,’ Trinity Episcopal Church’s Parish Hall, and at Municipal Winemakers.
As with Shawn’s other forays into social and political dysfunction, The Fever is not for the faint of heart. This 80-minute fractured flow of anecdote and obsession by a stationary speaker is full of Shawnian second-guessing, grotesque irony, and yes, blazing insight. In the black-box venue at Westmont the performer sat amidst (rather than above and apart from) the small audience. Thomas’s tone was as unaffected and intimate, as with friends. I was struck with the thought that had I not known this was scripted, I could easily have believed I had wandered into an informal gathering hosting a voluble, if disturbed, world traveler. Credit also goes to Thomas and director Maurice Lord for developing a solid character who is distinct from Wallace Shawn’s well-known persona (indeed, we can be thankful that was not catching).
Fever’s narrator is undone by his realization of his mass complicity in the chains of violence in the world that are all padded silk on one end and concealed bloodstains on the other. Honesty becomes a destabilizing force as it ruptures the inner wall that has fortified his ignorance. Whether or not your own self-doubt is as crippling, this fine production of The Fever is nevertheless a homeopathic stimulant for any free mind.