Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
This one-man play is an ambitious work, one that must surely tax the actor playing its protagonist. At over two hour's duration, full of semi-coherent rants, it also taxes its audience. It demands much, but it pays back little in useful ideas.
As the program informs, “the action takes place in a hotel room in a poor country in the present.” “Action” is a generous term here. The play is essentially a glimpse into the deranged mind of an unnamed Man, who, like playwright Wallace Shawn, is a well-to-do Manhattan resident. The Man seems just now to be realizing his privilege on a visit to a war-torn land; the “action” consists of him flailing about the stage for hours, moaning that his wealth is undeserved, threatening to vomit at the revelation of poverty's existence.
An experiment such as this relies on the quality of its ideas, and “The Fever” does pose some issues worthy of examination. Throughout the play, the Man refers to a theoretical book that contains the narrative of his exterior life: He gets up, he eats breakfast, he does nothing of particular noteworthiness for the rest of the day. By contrasting the simplicity of his quotidian actions and his hyperactive inner life, the Man suggests that our value is not defined solely by what we do.
The Man spends most of his time thinking about money, however, and here his inquiries are less fruitful. He discovers that while man's sense of self does not stem from his daily employment, neither does his purchasing power. Why, he asks, have I been wealthy my entire life as the person who toils endlessly in a sweatshop earns mere pennies? But having asked the question, he can do nothing but wail about the cruelty of it. His monologue is intellectually monotone with no bearing on the real world. We never learn the name of the poor country where he suffers. The entire spectacle, at least in the Weekend Theater's version, takes place in a dark room with no scenery and only four austere chairs for props.
Alan Douglas, who played the Man in the theater's two-night run last weekend, did a fine job; it is no small task to recite this material non-stop (though I wouldn't be surprised to discover he was improvising some, considering that the play ran well over its stated length). His performance, particularly his control of pitch and tone, nicely emphasized the Man's unbecoming hysteria.
But the play itself has problems: One wonders if its sentiments would not have been better expressed through dialogue rather than monologue, or even explored in another medium. After all, Dostoevsky has no shortage of characters who won't shut up about their own guilt, yet “Crime and Punishment” is still a pleasure to read and analyze. A viewer of “The Fever,” on the other hand, might be forgiven for feeling numb and assaulted when he exits the theater.