Wallace Shawn's The Fever, a 90-minute, harrowing monologue that crawls through the mind of one quite eloquent–if quite loquacious–character, is a tough sell. And not only because it's a 90-minute, harrowing monologue that crawls through the mind of one quite eloquent–if quite loquacious–character.
Because this is anything but a straightforward monologue. It borders on the hallucinatory, with our speaker recalling waking up in dismal hotel in a foreign country wracked by civil war before suddenly veering into a memory about a birthday party at a fancy restaurant. The incongruous juxtaposition continues through the piece, with our speaker reveling in her love of violin, parties at nude beaches, elephants, balloons and the joy of finding her favorite socks–and just as suddenly recounting the atrocities, large and small, she sees on her journey to the aforementioned country.
It's densely written and hauntingly beautiful at times, but so much is thrown at the audience that it's very easy to feel as if you have absolutely no clue as to what's important and what isn't. And that might be the point of Shawn's piece. Or it might not.
Director Greg Adkins is obviously passionate about Shawn's words, and he does nothing to get in the way of their delivery. A couple of subtle light changes here, a small amount of blocking there. But no bells or whistles designed to help shepherd the audience thorugh the maze of Shawn's work.
That is left to our actress, Melanie Gable, who does a stellar job in one of the most difficult roles you'll ever see on a local stage, big or small. It's not just that she's flying solo for 90 minutes, that there's nothing to see or hear but her. It's also that the words she's given are fraught with politics and philosophy, and that she's also a character in deep turmoil about the state of her world, both externally and internally.
Gable masters the highly demanding language with grace and confidence. You never get the sense that she's working too hard (although, obviously she must be) or that she's overmatched by the very heady material.
The only knock on the performance I saw is that there doesn't seem to be enough of Gable on stage. That sounds weird, since Gable is the only thing on stage. But though her character is believable, complex and obviously wrestling with issues great and small, there is an element of humanity that is missing. And it could boil down to the fact that any actor given this role has to crawl through their mind so much that it's difficult to tap into the heart. Gable obviously understands this character and knows what she is saying; but I'd like a better sense of how she feels about what she's saying.
The Fever, Monkey Wrench Collective, 204 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-1400. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. $10. www.monkeywrenchcollective.org.