No Cowbell Required For This Fever
Nothing of critical import opens this weekend in the OC area, but a lot of shows are approaching the end of their runs, including critically acclaimed productions of Measure for Pleasure at the Garage Theatre in Long Beach (closes Saturday), Pool (No Water) at the Monkey Wrench Collective in Fullerton (closes June 6), and Steel Magnolias and Steel Dragnolias at Stages, also in Fullerton (closes June 12).
So, with nothing this weekend, we'll focus on something opening next Thursday, also at the Monkey Wrench: Wallace Shawn's (look him up: you'll recognize him) The Fever, a monologue that the New York Times in 2007 called "a corrosive exercise in theatrical conscience-baiting (where) Shawn argues that virtually every transaction undertaken by an American city-dweller rests on a sturdy foundation of moral turpitude."
Sounds like our cup of hemlock-spiced tea! So, we caught up with the show's director, Greg Adkins, one of OC's brighest, literate and, thankfully, verbose theater types, and asked him to explain why anyone else should care about a play that so turns his mind on.
Take it away, Greg...OC Weekly: What compelled you about Shawn's Script?
Greg Adkins: A few years ago, I was reading a lot of economic theory. It's a pretty fascinating field, because it turns out that economists, much more so than sociologists or even philosophers, spend a vast amount of time trying to work out why people make bizarre, self-defeating choices,
They call it Social Choice Problems, when you actively attempt to make a decision that's beneficial for society at large but which ends up backfiring against its intent. They've found, for instance, that people who buy "green" products instead of carefully monitoring the way they use non-green products often end up having a larger negative environmental impact, because they just assume that whatever they're using is "green" makes it alright to use with abandon. It ends up doing more harm than good.
The amazing thing about The Fever is that it deals with all those kind of counter-intuitive ethical issues in a fashion that is engaging and direct, without ever devolving into a morality lecture. It's struggling with a pretty profound issue--namely, what does it mean to be a "decent" person--and doing so in such a way that it never feels pandering or tiresome, which is a fucking tough line to walk.
And I fucking love that Shawn writes this thing, which could very easily fall into a pit of endless, eye-rolling didactism, as essentially a kind of intellectual horror story where none of the monsters are metaphorical.
It's a one-person play, so the actor better have chops. What's Melanie Gable bring to the piece?
She's a unique amalgamation of talents. She's a fantastic classical actress and she's got this real command of the poetry of the language down. On the other hand, she's also a burlesque performer, and the founder of the Orange County Underground Burlesque Society, so she also has this great and very relatable real-word presence that sometimes is lacking in actors who focus just on dramatic roles.
It's that relatibility that's deadly important for a show like this. Since it's just her up there, and because much of what the character is going through revolves around the internal changes in how she perceives the world, you've got to get somebody who really responds to these sometimes rather abstract idea on a visceral, emotional level.
Wallace Shawn has a great rep among a very select group of people. Usually smarty-pants intellectuals. He's a bold and original writer, but also a tough sell for mainstream audiences. How to you deal with that?
I suppose one of the primary assets of his work is that he's completely unabashed about being a smarty-pants intellectual., The foundational style of his plays is that they're built up from this aesthetics of ideas. They're just so clearly in love with the idea of ideas. His characters dance about with one another's philosophies and political ideologies, luxuriating in this kind of wild, intellectual promiscuity.
And he manages to find ways to make each new view of the world sound more appealing and logical and just plain right than the one before it."The Fever is a great encapsulation of that sensibility. It goes through this increasingly rapid-fire spin of heavily conflicting viewpoints, all coming off the same person, each seeming as luminous and seductive as the one before it. One minute you're sitting there nodding your head about how maybe you should give poor people all your money, the next it comes off as completely rational when she says that the poor should all be taken out and shot.
This isn't a guy who writes a 90-minute monologue play because he's trying to info-dump a political viewpoint in your lap and say 'here, do this.' This is a dude who writes a 90-minute monologue play because he loves the way that ideas taste as they come tripping off the tongue.
OK, intellectually challenging play, something that pokes, probes and stimulates. But, really, what's going to the make the experience truly memorable?
I should mention that it contains a brief video projection of a naked woman. Also: free wine and hors d'oevures.
The Fever, Monkey Wrench Collective, 204 N. Harbor Blvd., (714) 525-1400. Opens Thurs, June 3. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat,, June 11 & 18, 8 p.m. Thru June 19. $10.