While in New York this weekend, I saw "The Fever," written and performed by Wallace Shawn at the New Group on 42nd Street in Theatre Row.
The matinee began with a champagne reception, on stage, with Wallace Shawn. Mr. Shawn brilliantly worked the circle of people around him, patiently answering questions - or deflecting them - and focusing on just a few people at a time. I was a little star struck and nervous, but thrilled each time he met my gaze. I wondered if he felt like an animal at the zoo.
When the performance began, I was unprepared for the darkness. The physical darkness combined with the solemnity of the performance left me seriously shaken. It took nearly an hour in the brightly colored coffee bar on a different floor of the building for me to recover my ability to talk intelligently and think clearly.
It's hard for me, even now - 2 full days later- to decide how I felt about the play. I appreciated that it talked completely about poverty - from nearly every angle. Blame was equally distributed, answers were scarce or nonexistent, and every one of our intentions were called into question. I'm not certain that "the poor" were seen as mobile entities as much as a problematic blob of people to be questioned, or helped, or ignored, depending on which side of the issue the "non-poor" fell on.
Wallace was masterful in his delivery. The play is long, intense, and without intermission. Truly the piece is an opportunity for an impressive performance, and this was one. One expects a certain fluency if the person has written the piece himself, but I was still amazed at the fluidity of Mr. Shawn's diction and with the performance in general.
The conversation upon leaving a performance is always an interesting opportunity to see how the issues are received. I was disheartened to hear only a few interactions. One being a woman saying "at least some people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are trying to do something." Yes, the richest people in the world are giving a small percentage of their enormous wealth back. But really, its a requirement for them to do so, morally and financially.
If I were to respond to the issues brought up in this wonderful play, they would be something to the effect of "What now?" You've raised the questions. You've challenged our motives. You've questioned our comfort. Now what? What do we do now? We're listening now, Mr. Shawn, all of us - the poor, the middle class, the upper class - all of us commingled at your lovely performance. What would you have us do now?