by Mike Hoban
The Fever – Written and Directed by Abigail Browde & Michael Silverstone. Created in collaboration with Brandon Wolcott, Emil Abramyan, and Eric Southern. Produced by Oberon in collaboration with 600 Highwaymen. Performed at the Ex at the Loeb Theatre, 64 Brattle St. Cambridge through November 19
If you’re one of those folks who is a little (or a lot) skittish about the thought of attending a show where audience participation is built into the theatrical experience, relax, The Fever is not that kind of a show. In fact, it’s not really a “show” at all, certainly not in any traditional theatrical sense. This oddly compelling piece plays more like a social experiment in unforced compliance than theater, but it works in a way that never feels forced or hokey.
As someone who has been a performer of some sort for most of my life, the thought of being dragged on stage or even asked to sing along to a song that I have no interest in singing has never been my idea of fun. But with Fever, there is no coercion, save for the occasional gentle request such as, “Will someone come and help me up?” as one of the “cast” members, lying prone on the floor, asks the audience to do during the performance. In fact, while there are a few such requests in order to keep the action moving in the right direction, much of the experience comes from the audience just following along with whatever happens, like a singalong of motion.
The playing area is a gymnasium-esque rectangle, one row of seats deep, with approximately 80 or so audience members sitting elbow to elbow in their chairs. The experience builds slowly, with a lone woman rhythmically raising and lowering her hands, The audience members soon join in, doing a kind of silent (but way cooler) version of the Wave usually seen at sporting events, until the entire audience is participating. This leads into a loose narrative about a woman named Maryanne having a party, where the audience serves as house guests and neighbors, but mostly it appears to be device to get the audience on their feet and interacting within that storyline.
Accompanied by lighting changes and music, a mood is created where people do seem to be connecting to the piece in a way that feels nothing like a social experiment (despite incorporating a version of the “trust fall”). There is something about the structure of The Fever that feels not only non-threatening, but inviting, as the audience members wordlessly leave their seats and join in. In an age where people’s version of “connecting” with fellow humans is posting a “like” on Facebook, The Fever is really a not-so radical reminder that being with others is the real source of the spirit, if only for the 75 minutes of the production. For more information, go to: https://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/fever