I saw an amazing performance last weekend, but I have no clue how to properly describe what I saw. I could start by talking about Wallace Shawn, the playwright of “The Fever,” which was first performed in 1990 or so, was turned into a provocative film in 2004, and is now being performed by actor and author Elliot Fintushel, most commonly in other people’s living rooms.
Occasionally their backyards.
And for one more weekend . . . in an actual theater, Main Stage West in Sebastopol to be specific.
But I was talking about Wallace Shawn.
He’s best known as the voice of Rex the lovable plastic dinosaur from the Toy Story movies, or as the villainous Vizzini in “The Princess Bride,” yeah the guy who says, “Inconceivable.” You might even know him as the other guy at the dinner table in ‘My Dinner With André,’ the one who wasn’t André.
Anyway, Shawn is also a playwright, and while his films are often light and airy and fluffy and mostly positive, his plays – including things like “The Designated Mourner” and “Aunt Dan” and “Lemon” – are not. An avowed socialist, Wallace writes plays about the world at large, about politics and oppression and the plight of the poor and dangers of fascism and hypocrisy of the ruling class.
But of course, he’s also a millionaire. The website celebritynetworth.com estimates Shawn’s fortune at about eight million. So as a socialist, Shawn feels sort of conflicted about that.
Which is why he wrote “The Fever,” a stunningly effective, frequently lyrical, inescapably uncomfortable, and occasionally very, very funny ninety-minute monologue, which Shawn originally performed for his rich Hollywood friends in their own living rooms, which made them uncomfortable, which was exactly Wallace Shawn’s intention.
How do we in the west deal with our position of privilege, how do we who enjoy relative wealth and luxury compared with all of those third world countries where people have literally nothing actually make ourselves okay with that?
Told as if it’s just some guy at a dinner party telling a story about a recent trip abroad, the wildly stream-of-consciousness monologue traces the storytellers gradual existential crisis, made vivid while suffering a strange fever that keeps him on the bathroom floor of a hotel in a small country currently engaged in violent revolution.
It’s an astonishing piece of writing, and in Elliot Fintushel’s hands, a wholly remarkable act of high-risk performance art. At Main Stage West, you can sit on stage with Fintushel if you like, perched on a comfy couch, though you may also sit out in the darkened theater if that’s too intense for you. Either way, what you will witness is the theatrical equivalent of Philippe Petit’s famous tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in New York. Barely moving from his own chair at center stage, Fintushel takes his audience on a journey through what it means to be human being in a world where only a few share the wealth while the majority go without. It’s powerful,
challenging, important, sad, funny, beautiful, and (though definitely not exactly light-hearted theater) DEFINITELY an experience you are not likely to regret, or easily shake off . . . on your way home.
“The Fever” runs this Thursday through Sunday at mainstage west, mainstagewest.com