Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., June 25, 2004
Whole Foods parking garage, through July 3
Running Time: 1 hr, 45 min
Physical Plant Theater has always found ways to present plays that challenge the audience's senses, that refine, if not redefine, what "going to the theatre" is all about. And with its production of Wallace Shawn's The Fever, Plant directors Josh Meyer and Carlos Trevino are again attempting to hone theatre out of the unexpected. This is the company's first foray into its new Dashboard Series. Drive up to the top of the parking garage at Whole Foods downtown, tune your radio to a specified FM station, and you'll hear the broadcast of the play. You park with engine off, while carhops proffer cooling washcloths (free) and hawk lemonade sort of a Sonic drive-in for the theatre-going set. The pure radio-play nature of the project is in evolution, for in the direction of the Market, you can see a standing lamp illuminating a plush armchair and an end table replete with a glass of water and a bottle of Maalox, and in the chair is the dapper figure of actor Matt Hislope an actor on a stage, truly. That you can see the entire monologue unfold before your eyes belies "radio play" in the strictest sense, but you still have to tune in to hear Hislope tell his story, and that disconnectedness there he is in front of you, but you can't hear him without the radio is rather fascinating. Plus, by presenting the play this way, for an audience seated in the somewhat isolated confines of an automobile (or the bed of a truck), there is a covert acquiescence that it is okay to talk to your car-mates during the play. The informality of the seating arrangements promotes serious ongoing banter, and the monologue, which attacks affluence and poses questions of the culpability of the world's wealthy denizens for the social, economic, political, and cultural poverty of the rest of the world, is rife for discussion. Given America's current interests in particular Third World climes, this play comes at an opportune time. See it and discuss.
Hislope's character is a well-to-do liberal sort, traipsing about parts of the Third World half-addicted to his version of "roughing it" and wholly horrified at (and somewhat captivated by) the differences between "them" and "us." Over the course of the play, the differences melt into symbiosis without them, there is no us. Are we capable of understanding, let alone accepting, this equation? For Hislope's character, it all gets personal: We meet him as he recounts his thoughts at the base of a hotel toilet bowl into which he is periodically sick. The effects of a recent meal or local illness? Or the growing nausea at the realization of his culpability? As Hislope offers details of his travels and the people he meets, at home and abroad, he continually asks questions of himself and us. Shawn's script is a little tentative; no matter the gruesome detail, there seems a disconnect between the dapper narrator and the effects of his narration. Then, at last, in one powerful segment, Hislope's tale of a harrowing encounter with soldiers and his current embrace of the cool toilet bowl come together with a rush of confusion and pain and, well, fever.
Hislope is an excellent storyteller. Personable, warm, humorous, he neither rants nor points fingers. His accusation is an introspective sort, one that ripples gently into the audience's cars via those subtle sound waves emanating from the dashboard. Meyer and Trevino don't always keep him in his chair, but their choices mostly seem random and ungrounded although toward the end, as Hislope moves toward the edge of the parking deck, it is easy to wonder whether a man, bearing the weight of his increasing guilt, might just ...
Surrounded by million-dollar lofts with the occasional Lear jet passing overhead (and, in one exquisite bit of irony, a police helicopter with a searchlight sweeping the downtown area: If you thought "regime" was a word for sub-Saharan Africa or Central America, wonder why the need for an ever-present roving airborne monitor), this particular parking deck is as perfect a venue for this material as you could hope for. The production has its bumps, but it prompts plenty of thought. And these days, a call to think from your car radio no less is a worthy call.