“THE FEVER” at the Fritz Theater
“BEDROOM FARCE” at the Old Globe
KPBS AIRDATE: APRIL 14, 1999
To bastardize the Bard, it’s ‘Much Ado about Very Little’ and ‘Little Ado About Quite a Bit.’ That’s my take on “Bedroom Farce” at the Globe and “The Fever” at the Fritz.
The Globe has gone back to another of its perennial favorites – the acidic Brit-com writer, Alan Ayckbourn. “Bedroom Farce” is a 20 year old piece, and it isn’t one of the prolific playwright’s best. At times, Ayckbourn can be justly accused of an excess of cleverness and plot intricacy. Here, he’s got neither, as once again, he tackles one of his most beloved topics – that tireless target, marriage. We get to examine four of them, in three bedrooms at once, with a floating pair that manages to terrorize all the others in the course of one sleepless Saturday night.
The best part of the proceedings, as is so often the case at the Globe, is the set, which gloriously distinguishes the nuptial surroundings of the 3 couples, representing 3 stages of life. James Joy’s scenic design is true to his name — a joy — but it’s more than the play is worth. The linguistic humor is caustic and wan, though director Joseph Hardy works wonders with the physical comedy. The performances are charming, well-tuned and well-timed. But one is tempted to say, So what? Who cares? The cynical bottom line here is that, if you scratch the surface of any marriage, you’ll draw blood. Even if the participants seem to be enjoying each other and having a wonderful time, there’s ugliness and unhappiness underneath. Doesn’t do much for the divorce rate – or the funnybone.
But I will happily sit through a more serious diatribe, with some real and disturbing substance. “The Fever,” by the brilliantly provocative Wallace Shawn, is the kind of theater that really made a name for the Fritz. They seemed to have lost their focus for awhile there, but this production brings them back on track. The two primary vertebrae that form the spine of the Fritz, artistic director Bryan Bevell and producing director Karin Williams have teamed up with actor/choreographer Carol Abney to create an evening that’s intellectually bone-chilling. Published in 1991, “The Fever,” a 90-minute monologue, was originally performed by the playwright himself, who intended it to be presented to small groups in private homes. It’s written in the very recognizable, political/analytical Shawn style (you might remember him from his immensely talky film, “My Dinner with André,” or his disquieting plays, “Aunt Dan and Lemon,” “Marie and Bruce,” and “The Designated Mourner”).
“The Fever” is kind of a fever dream; the anguished central character is or is not deathly ill, is or is not in “a poor country where [his] language isn’t spoken.” This may all take place in his fevered imagination; the illness may only be metaphorical. Nonetheless, this man is drowning, going down, having a crisis of faith; in fact, losing his soul.
In a beautifully understated, conversational manner, without any exclamation points or histrionics, Bryan Bevell is telling a deeply personal story, triggered by disease and dis-ease. His points are underscored by three agile, khaki-clad dancers, flailing, writhing, flinging themselves at the wall and at each other, at times interacting with Bevell as he speaks. Sometimes the choreography distracts, pulling your focus from the words; but when it works, Abney’s jumpy, drooping, agitated dancing complements and supplements the text, with equal ferocity. Having watched a brutal act which has called his whole existence into question, the speaker is forced to examine his life. In the process, he questions his lifelong liberalism, and how it relates to Marxism, communism and social Darwinism, with a primary focus on the eternal dichotomy between rich and poor, and the responsibility of each for the condition of the other. This is heady, head-spinning stuff. It makes you evaluate your own values and may make you wary, even terrified, of getting mired, buried, consumed by the unanswerable questions, lest you, too, lose your soul.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1999 Patté Productions Inc.