“Would I make myself ridiculous?” the Traveler asks. He asks this question slowly. Thoughtfully. Almost laboriously. It is a difficult question to ask. And apparently, even more difficult to answer.
This question is the defining moment for the Traveler, who has spent the past 90 minutes narrating to the audience the horrific disease he has developed while visiting in a foreign country. This disease, which can be diagnosed as social awareness, has infected both his body and mind and left him wracked with pain, both physical and emotional.
Born into privilege, the Traveler has lived a comfortable, cosseted life. He eats and drinks well; he enjoys theatrical and musical performances; he considers himself to be a good person – at least, good enough. His existence can be described as sheltered; it is not until he travels to anther country and is exposed to actual suffering that he begins to look below the surface of his own life. After returning home, he finds himself discontent and restless. His friends bore him. He bores himself. He longs to travel again, and when he does, his illness begins.
Written and performed by Wallace Shaw, The Fever is narrated on one set by one actor. Sitting in an armchair, surrounded by books and sipping a glass of wine, Shaw’s description of his illness and the emotions that surround it span vast range of emotions. He goes from calm to restless, placid to troubled, secure to doubtful.
Shaw’s performance is deliberate and thoughtful, but at times it lags and becomes repeated. While the Traveler’s intentions are good and his thoughts relevant, the espousing of liberal guilt, no matter how fashionable they may be, grow tiresome eventually.
The line between words and action, between thought and deed, is a fine one and the Traveler treads it carefully. He states that, “I could tell that to be able to understand it, your life would have to change,” but he has yet to make any changes. The question of if he would make himself ridiculous arises when he ponders the possibility of taking action. The definition of “ridiculous,” according to the Traveler, can be found when giving up his own material comforts and becoming a social activist, marching in the streets.
Whether the awareness the Traveler has gained is an actual ailment is left to the audience. So is the question of whether he would actually make himself ridiculous. No matter how carefully the Traveler asks this question, when the show ends, he has not answered it yet.