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Friday Morning Guest Review: Afternoon of a Shawn (Wallace Shawn's "The Fever")

Filed under: The Squib Report   Tagged: , , ,

Martin Schneider, our trusty Squib Reporter, writes:

Last night I went to see Wallace Shawn—son, of course, of William—deliver his monologue/play The Fever at the Acorn Theatre on 42nd Street. When I entered the auditorium, there was a clot of people on the stage. Ah yes, I recalled, anyone viewing the performance was encouraged to “join Mr. Shawn for a sip of champagne one half hour before each performance.” It’s only after the play that the lacerating bite of the gesture becomes evident.

My companions and I observed that sipping champagne in a crowd full of theatergoing New Yorkers came perilously close to “hobnobbing.” When we spotted Ethan Hawke on the other side of the stage, we realized that hobnobbing status had indeed been attained. (Shawn appeared in the New Group’s 2005 production of Hurlyburly, starring Hawke; both The Fever and Hurlyburly were directed by Scott Elliott.)

Before assuming his character of “the Traveler,” Shawn spoke for a few minutes about the strange conventions of theater. Theatergoers like to go to plays even though they are fully aware that plays are awful; the conventions involved in theater programs are mystifying; disembodied voices with demands about our cell phones are over-hasty; and so on. Charming and astute.

The play is about the unsettling thoughts of any educated, cultured person: Who had to toil so hard so that I could enjoy this latte? Do my fondness for Schumann and my considerate manners represent any contribution to the public weal? On what basis can my privileged status be justified? And so on. It’s brave and thought-provoking stuff, and I enjoyed it a lot. For a clever fellow, Shawn is awfully dark. Or possibly the other way around.

I also liked him in the underrated 1985 movie Heaven Help Us.

The Fever is playing through March 3 at the Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. Performances are Monday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m.


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I know Wallace Shawn’s done loads of highbrow stuff over the years, but you can’t beat his portrayal of Ellen (“with an E - Helen would be an absurd name for a guy”) in Nice Girls Don’t Explode.

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