Wallace Shawn

The Fever

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A well-to-do American is desperately trying to get some sleep in a hotel room in some unnamed country "where my language isn't spoken." Suffering from a high fever as the power goes out, the American, feeling weak and disoriented, lies on the bathroom floor, illuminated by a single candle, and is gripped with nausea as his mind drifts from one place to another. Over the course of his long night, the American begins to think of himself and his nation, his relative wealth compared to those around him both at home and abroad, the sense of entitlement that seems part and parcel of living in the United States, and the many crimes that are committed in his name. Most folks who know Wallace Shawn as the nebbishy actor who plays Grand Nagus Zek on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and provided the voice of Rex, the neurotic dinosaur in Toy Story, aren't aware of his career as an award-winning playwright whose work is often deeply challenging, both emotionally and politically. Shawn's 1990 performance piece The Fever was one of his most polarizing works, a long monologue in which one placidly liberal man drags himself face to face with the true costs of economic injustice and American foreign policy; asking an audience to relate to a character who announces that the sort of people who can afford to attend the theater on a regular basis have a very real (and frequently ignored) obligation to the poor who grow our coffee, clean our homes, and do our dirty work isn't likely to make folks feel comfortable, and there are more than a few moments of uncomfortable silence in this recording of a 1999 production of The Fever performed by Shawn in New Mexico. One senses that Shawn wants those silences to be there, and they only reinforce his point; Shawn reads The Fever in his high, slightly nasal voice, which we're most accustomed to hearing in comic roles, but he brings a remarkable gravity to this piece, and regardless of what audiences might think about his message (not likely to register with the average Republican), his performance is powerful and a master's study in dynamics. This recording of The Fever documents a stunning performance of a brave and adventurous work, and it merits hearing -- and hearing again.

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