Revolution Online, February 23, 2009

The FEVER—A Play For Our Times

Fundraiser for Revolution Books

A thoroughly enjoyable and engaging evening! David Shapiro's absorbing performance of Wallace Shawn's play The Fever to benefit Chicago Revolution Books left the audience deeply moved and provoked. On a bitterly cold January night, the 75 people in the audience experienced a riveting performance of a very timely and meaningful work. The venue, Chopin Theatre, is an important and popular theatre in the Wicker Park neighborhood, known for creative and thought-provoking plays, often including international artists and themes. Chopin, characterized recently in the New York Times as "enchantingly funky," was a wonderful host for the performance and reception.

The audience included Chopin theatre-goers, Wallace Shawn enthusiasts and bookstore supporters. Following the performance, it was downstairs for the reception where audience members met David Shapiro, met each other and met Revolution Books. As befitting a complex and nuanced work of art, there were many different feelings and ideas provoked off the performance. One person told us later she was so disturbed she was unable to sleep that night. One conversation following the play began—"I really relate to how he (the play's character) feels." Her friend replied—"I don't!"

One audience member wrote the bookstore about this "remarkable theatrical monologue": "The sole character in The Fever reminds us that we are not alone in this world despite the many degrees of separation between all of us… Where do we get our shoes? Who was the child that sewed the label into our underwear? Who mows our lawns, washes our dishes, picks our fruits and vegetables or cooks our food in high-end restaurants?... Why do so many work so hard for so little and why does hardly anyone care about it?... We tend to forget that the material comforts of this world enjoyed by we middle and upper classes of humanity do not magically appear by themselves, but rather, are manufactured and serviced through a seamless, almost invisible web of production relations largely unknown to us."

Another audience member recalled protests against sweatshop labor while she was a university student in Taiwan, and a related controversy about students wearing brand name jeans to the protests. She talked about how as she has gotten older (into her later ’20s) she thinks less about larger causes and more about immediate solutions. She argued that although global capitalism ties together humanity through exploitation, she hopes that out of suffering today the capitalist market will ultimately lead to rising living standards and a better life for everyone. This led to conversation about human nature and the history of socialism, which figure prominently into her viewpoint.

Guilt was one theme in the conversations. Chicago Time Out website announcement of the event described it as "First World guilt from a Maoist bookstore," echoing the New York Times review characterizing The Fever as Wallace Shawn's vehicle for "liberal guilt" when first performed 20 years ago. There were varying views on the issue of guilt and it became clear that this concept became a door to wrangle over questions involving how people's lives throughout the world are intertwined, how one person's suffering is connected to another's affluence, and what does this have to do with issues of morality and responsibility.

One audience member described the play's content as religious guilt in which one's birth into middle class privilege is the equivalent of original sin. In this conversation very earthly concerns came to the surface as this person recounted a quandary in the play involving how much one should give to a beggar and beyond that why is one person a beggar and another person affluent in the first place.

Besides David Shapiro's performance, The Fever is readily available in book form, in audio by Wallace Shawn, and as an HBO movie starring Vanessa Redgrave on DVD. Read it, watch it, listen to it, wrangle over it, and spread it! As the person writing to Revolution Books pointed out: "The Fever dramatically portrays the importance of thinking out loud about matters of social justice that exist in a world alienated by consumerism and stratified by exploitation."

This benefit occurred 6 days after Barack Obama's inauguration where he declared to the world: "We will not apologize for our way of life." This was the beginning of a single sentence that ended with the words "and we will defeat you." Wallace Shawn's The Fever dramatically probes some of the ethical and political assumptions that lie therein.

In a welcome and fundraising appeal following the play, a Revolution Books staff person challenged people to "stop thinking like Americans and start thinking about humanity" and spoke about the role of Revolution Books in building a vibrant revolutionary movement, one that engages all the big questions facing humanity. This memorable cultural event raised vital funds for Revolution Books.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond