Paying the price

Acknowledging our privilege causes deep suffering
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  January 16, 2008

The Fever by Wallace Shawn | Performed by Keith D. Anctil (January 17 & 19) and Jennie Hahn (January 18 & 20) | Produced by Open Waters Theatre Arts and Zero Station | at Zero Station, 222 Anderson St, Portland | 207.799.5945
Our afflicted protagonist (Keith D. Anctil, alternating shows with Jennie Hahn) would like to lead you on a thought experiment: Take that coat you just bought, he says. Or that cup of coffee, or that skin magazine. Think about what you paid for it. Now, that price, that value — it isn’t intrinsic to that coat or that coffee or that porn, right? It didn’t just float down from the sky from God with a price tag on it. No, its price is rather the end of a history, or story, of all the different lives involved in getting it into your hands — the people who made the coat, or picked the beans, or bent naked over a fence. But we don’t often think about all those people, do we? Instead, our protagonist explains, we tend to see the value of a thing as removed from its production history, almost as if its value is an inherent, unalterable spirit held within the product. It’s almost like a religious belief.

This storyless view of things is what Marx called the fetishization of commodities, and it’s one of the ideas that has turned our protagonist — a nice, socially-concerned, newspaper-reading, arts-loving American not unlike ourselves — into the restless, haunted, inconsolable man we see thrashing and ranting before us on a red couch. Over the course of the reeling, wide-veering 90-minute monologue of Wallace Shawn’s one-person show The Fever, produced at Zero Station by the young socially-oriented company Open Waters Theatre Arts, our protagonist (Anctil, as reviewed here) suffers from something with no easy fix: his horrifying understanding of his privileged position in the systemic poverty and subjugation that is our global economy.

The devil is in the details of this affliction, half remembered, half read from our protagonist’s journal (or the “book of his life,” as he says). On a visit to an unnamed “revolutionary country,” he wrangles with loving beauty — Beethoven, ballet, the emaciated peasant woman as beautiful as a Renaissance painting — even as he details the photographs he sees of bloody rape and torture victims. When a friend’s father dies, he’s compelled to remark that people are dying in much more horrible ways every minute. He imagines, with mixed fascination and repulsion, having dinner chez hypothetical “poor friends” — the “sticky smell,” the coughing kids.

Originally performed in a New York City living room by its playwright, The Fever is relentless, visceral, and performed at intimate range. The very post-modern gallery/studio space of Zero Station offers minimal stage area, and in any case The Fever calls for a static, purposefully claustrophobic set of the one couch, bedeviled with stacks of books and papers. It is not dull for all its smallness. Anctil’s manic physicality renders this small room an almost unbearably dynamic place.

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Related: Back in the acts, Scurrilous scurryings, Food on stage, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Ludwig van Beethoven, Wallace Shawn, Keith Anctil,  More more >
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