London Fringe — The Fever: A Crisis of Conscience; A Condemnation of Self-Limited Caring

By Jay Menard

The Fever is a compelling story of the lies we tell ourselves — either consciously or unconsciously — to justify the lives we enjoy. Lives that are built upon the foundation of other people’s sorrow. And it’s delivered courtesy of a riveting performance by Pat O’Brien.

The Fever was written by Wallace Shawn and is brought to life in this year’s Fringe by the much-ballyhooed O’Brien, who previously wowed with Underneath the Lintel. From the moment the show starts to the final word spoken, O’Brien holds the crowd in the palm of his hand and commands attention from start to finish.

Through little more than his vocal delivery and body language, he is able to captivate the listener and draw him or her into this story of a man, who is trying to balance the beliefs of Marxism with his position of privilege and the choices he continues to make. He struggles with the realization that truths he holds so dear are actually self-delusions to justify the lies that they actually are.

The privileged O’Brien can live his values, he can make a difference, and he can do more to help the poor that he professes to care so much about — but he struggles with the sacrifice and the false definitions we, as society, have created about what it means to live. Is it right to attend operas and own art, when others are struggling every day just to survive?

It is an examination of our societal hypocrisy that allows us to live lives of relative luxury granted to us by a combination of historical theft and violence, and maintained through luck of geography and an artificially constructed rule of law that favours the status quo.

It also offers a scathing condemnation of those most vocal about supporting the poor and the downtrodden, whilst doing little to actually create equality in the world. O’Brien’s character questions how committed he is to actually helping the poor when he consciously chooses to justify the luxuries he has.

This play is particularly poignant in today’s world where hashtag advocacy is en vogue, changing a Facebook profile picture is considered “doing something,” and professing support for a cause has replaced actually making a tangible difference by working for a cause. It is a play that those who work — from positions of privilege — with the poor or who profess themselves advocates would do well to see.

The Fever is a story of a crisis of conscience — and a story that should give its viewers pause to reconsider what it means to care.

***** — Five of five stars

This review was initially published on

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