I will be directing a rehearsed reading at the People Show on December 30th, of The Fever by Wallace Shawn.
Leaving to one side the fact that Wallace Shawn is a fine actor (I would direct you to the film Vanya on 42nd Street if you are in any doubt), it is his writing for the theatre that will be his major legacy. I must confess to coming to Wallace’s work late, but when I did I found someone with a unique voice.
Wallace Shawn first performed the Fever in January 1990. He originally conceived it as a monologue that could be performed in people’s homes, to small groups by performers of any age or sex. Shawn himself has performed the piece many times for audiences ranging in size from 3 to 800 strong.
Though normally performed as a monologue, I have allowed myself to interpret Shawn’s word’s from his ‘Notes on performance’ – “It can be done by a man or a woman of more or less any age or type”, and will be using 5 performers in the reading.
Why The Fever, and why now?
To quote Shawn: “For me, a play is a form of writing which isn’t complete until it is interpreted by actors.”
So we are taking this opportunity to (hopefully) complete the work, if only for one night. Notwithstanding that, I believe that The Fever is the kind of thing that should be performed as much as possible. It reveals the human condition as it exists now in our partial world dominated by a privileged few. Beset as we are with issue politics argued for and against by those whom the ‘issue’ affects directly, and at a macro level showing an almost complete lack of interest in the lives those outside our immediate circle. Though the work rightly directs its attention towards the middle classes, their privileges, and narrow world-view, the issues raised should speak to everyone but the very poorest and powerless in the world.
Responses to the idea of staging a reading of The Fever from people I trust were a little more guarded than I thought they would be. There are always questions about the timing of any production, and as enthusiastic as everyone involved in the project is about the piece, we are producing it for others to see, enjoy, and hopefully be changed by. I know that is was produced by the Royal Court last year as part of the Wallace Shawn festival, and yes between Christmas and the New Year is not a great time to get people out to the theatre, but I strongly believe that there is no date in the calendar when any kind of performance of The Fever shouldn’t be done. If there is a piece of work that is worth venturing out for on a cold night in December I believe this to be it.
With Christmas on my mind Charles Dickens suddenly popped into my head, and I found myself thinking about one of the ghosts in his ‘A Christmas Carol”. The Ghost of Christmas Present opens the eyes and mind of Ebenezer Scrooge so he sees life the way it is, and how both he and other people live. It changes Scrooge for the better.
For me The Fever is the Ghost of this Christmas Present.