It has been a few weeks since Actors Repertory Theatre brought Wallace Shawn’s ‘The Fever’ to Luxembourg, so why review it now? Because if you saw the performance, there is a very good chance it is still playing in your mind, poking at your conscious, interrogating you about your beliefs, knocking you off your high horse.
The play is a fevered self-examination of ourselves and our society – a study of inequalities – and it takes us on a rollercoaster ride along with the one and only character in the play who teeters between making excuses for our indifference and our sense of entitlement and feeling gut-wrenching disgust and horror at the unfairness of it all. Who couldn't help but sometimes think back to Eric Abbott and Christine Probst’s performances when they hear the news about the dismantling of the Calais Jungle or walks past the increasingly numerous beggars right here in Luxembourg?
Both Abbott and Probst were roundly praised for stunning and very different performances. They took to the stage at Konrad’s on alternating evenings, bringing their own rich experience and undeniable talent with them. But on reflection, and yes, this play gets under your skin and makes you reflect a lot, they both got the praise they deserved while others went unsung. Isn’t that also inequality? Isn’t that also a wrong that might be righted?
That’s the real reason for this review. To give a little credit where credit is due, and that is to the play’s director, Peter Zazzali, who flew over from the USA, on leave from his professorial post at the University of Kansasto, help shape and guide this memorable performance. Why did Actors Rep want to bring Zazzali in on this, after all, when the play only has one actor, was perfomed on a very tiny stage, and had originally been performed by its writer just sitting in an armchair in friends’ apartments? Not much direction needed there, surely?
Think again - as The Fever pushes us to do. If you think about it, Zazzalli was directing two very different shows. Same character, same setting, same play. But very different interpretations, and that was not just due to the differences in Abbott’s and Probst’s styles and their differences in gender, build, appearance... but was in large part due to what Zazzalli brought out in these actors.
They are both well known in Luxembourg but, in The Fever, they were somehow not their selves, and not just because they are actors and that is what they do, morph into different people. Zazzalli had challenged them to reach into places they might not have explored before, asked them to get out of the comfort zone, asked them to try things they might not have known they could pull off.
Erik Abbott, naturally rather reserved like an intellectual pondering their views on Emmanuel Kant, gave a rapid-fire and wild-eye delivery. He had a Redbull-and-vodka energy and, like someone who may have knocked back 3 or 4 of those mixes, he lurched between laughter and tears. Zazzalli helped him to find these extremes – the lightness in the bleak text, the physicality of the performance, the moving tears of genuine sorrow.
Probst, on the other hand, naturally emits a similar amount of energy as the sun. Even off stage, she seems bigger than life, a cross between Mother Earth and Marilyn Monroe. And what did Zazzali have her do? Reign it in. What? Why bottle a tornado? Well, if you have ever twisted a pencil around in a rubber band ... you know the power of building up tension and the thrill of letting it rip. Although she held more of her emotions in than we’ve seen before, she was by no means playing it even-keel and steady. She was standing up on chairs and down on all fours on the floor, exhilarated by beautifully-clothed memories and nauseated by bare-naked realities.
Both actors excelled and could bask in the glory of their achievement. But internationally recognised theatre director, actor and scholar Peter Zazzali went back to Kansas with few people even knowing he had even been here. While we cannot narrow the divide between the haves and the have-nots by writing a theatre review, we can help give something to someone who deserves it – credit and a belated round of applause to director Peter Zazzali.
Photos by Carole Reckinger