Friday, January 25, 2013

Wallace Shawn's "The Fever" at La MaMa

The Fever--a monologue written by Wallace Shawn in the late 1980s, now interpreted by French-Romanian actress Simona Maicanescu at LaMaMa--has an inevitability about it. An inevitability so downright inevitable, in fact, that Shawn himself once wondered what might be the point in telling his audiences what they already know--that social and economic injustice exists worldwide and the comfortable, consuming classes depend upon it, revel in it, fear even the slightest hint of its correction. The point of Shawn's project seems to be to make all of that as visceral as possible so as to pin in place his typical audience--a choir of thoughtful, even brainy liberals--and exact some soul-searching.

Simona Maicanescu in The Fever

Co-adapted and directed by Swedish playwright Lars Norén, The Fever traps the pleasant, appealing Maicanescu within a square box of space outlined in heavy chalk marks on the floor. Having approached this space by way of the stairs alongside the audience seating--smiling at one or another of us as she slowly descends--she stands and addresses us nonstop for 85 minutes while mainly moving only her face, head, arms and hands. (There's a water bottle a little distance away, and she does take one short break to retrieve it.) Early on, you see her clasping the fingers of one hand inside its opposite, and you realize that there's something odd but--yes--inevitable in that and that she will not let either hand go free for a long while. When she does move the hands or just the fingers, there's a captivating, sometimes amusing, ritualistic inevitability in that, too.

The poor dear has no idea that she has stepped into a kind of interrogation chamber in which she will come to be the interrogator. Her confinement looks both externally-imposed and protectively self-imposed. As she continues to talk, we see that her unwillingness to delve beyond the surface of things--including the surface of her life and the consequences of her lifestyle--represents a mental lockup even more destructive than its current physical display. As Shawn's monologue drives on, Maicanescu shows signs of disruption and fraying. Eventually, the going gets quite raw.

Maicanescu is fiercely alert, detailed and brilliant in this tough, demanding work. Don't miss her.

Now through February 3

Schedule formation and tickets

La MaMa (First Floor Theatre)
74 East 4th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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