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The Fever

The Fever

By Wallace Shawn
Imprint: Theatre Communications Group
Paperback : 9781636702049, 96 pages, July 2024


  • Winner, Obie Award for Best Play 1991


A scorching one-man tour of guilt, privilege, and moral awakening.

First performed by the author himself at the posh apartments of his Hollywood and literary friends, Wallace Shawn’s The Fever is also an unapologetically sharp-edged critique of wealth and privilege. That tension, between the pleasures of affluence and the horrors of capitalism, runs through the play, as its unnamed speaker attempts to overcome the nausea—is it the water or the guilt?—that overwhelms him on a vacation to “a poor country where my language isn’t spoken.” Awakened to the reality of inequality by a copy of Marx’s Capital that mysteriously appears on his doorstep, our narrator surveys a world where Communismhas all but disappeared, but the inequality described by Marx in the 19th century has only accelerated. Ashamed of his own complicity in shaping the current landscape, the narrator is nevertheless torn between the comforts of his life and a desire to enact seismic societal change.


“Thirty years ago, The Fever was dismissed in some quarters as an exercise in radical chic. Today, as discussions of privilege and economic disparity rage throughout the culture, it feels more like an intervention, with a tacit warning about the simmering rage of the underclass against the rich (...) The Fever doesn’t want to make you sick. What it says, with ineluctable directness, is: You are sick already.”

- Time Out New York

“Shawn’s searing eloquence makes a strong case that art can, in fact, serve a higher purpose—and give you a good rattling besides.”

- New York Stage Review