Revolution #278, August 19, 2012
The Fever at Revolution Books, NYC
"I'm traveling—and I wake up suddenly in the silence before dawn in a strange hotel room, in a poor country where my language isn't spoken, and I'm shaking and shivering..."
For the next 80 minutes, the audience of 60 people traveled with actor David Shapiro on a journey back in time, across continents, and into the agonizing now... places outside any comfort zone. The evening was a performance of Wallace Shawn's The Fever, a benefit for Revolution Books in New York City, presented on the bookstore's stage.
The actor had flown in from Chicago where his interpretation of this one-man play has astonished theatergoers for two decades. The Chicago Reader described the play as "...a wickedly difficult monologue in which a man of privileged upbringing stands onstage for an hour and a half, explaining how he's confronted the atrocities perpetrated in 'poor countries'..."
The rapt audience packed into Revolution Books on July 26 was all ages, all nationalities, different backgrounds. Some were friends of Revolution Books, some were fans of Wallace Shawn. Two dozen volunteers from the BAsics Bus Tour had come straight from the streets that day, taking revolution and Bob Avakian's book BAsics into Brownsville, East New York, and the Bronx. These are neighborhoods where people have been literally abandoned by the system, and where the contradictions of this society are the sharpest.
The night was one of intense engagement for everyone. Several people bought a copy of the play on the spot. Some of the bus tour volunteers, who had themselves grown up in harsh circumstances, said they'd never heard someone from the stratum of The Fever's protagonist grapple with these questions.
"The voluptuous field that was given to me—how did I come to be given that one, and not the one that was black and barren? Yes, it happened like that because before I was born, the fields were apportioned, and some of the fields were pieced together. Not by chance, not by fate. The fields were pieced together one by one, by thieves, by killers. Over years, over centuries, night after night, knives glittering, throats cut, again and again, until the beautiful Christmas morning we woke up, and our proud parents showed us the gorgeous, shining, blood-soaked fields which now were ours..."
After the performance, Andy Zee, spokesperson for Revolution Books, took the stage: "You have not woken up in a foreign country. But you have woken up in Revolution Books. As we let David's performance wash over us, and the implications steep, consider this: it is true that each of us did not choose to be born in a country at the top of the world food chain, did not choose the circumstances that caused some people's parents or grandparents to flee to the U.S. because of what imperialism had wrought in their country of birth, and caused others' parents to bequeath them the 'voluptuous fields.' The savage inequalities that characterize our world were not our choice. But they are the real and killing consequence of history for billions of people throughout the planet, and for the planet itself. What is our choice is what we do with what we know of the world. Whether or not people go on with their American lives and ignore the grinding up of humanity right here and around the world—or instead join with others to contribute to bringing to a radically better new future. This is up to us."
The play forces the audience to deal with the protagonist's agonizing dilemma of who to stand with: the poor or the privileged. Wallace Shawn unfolds yet another level to the question. As Andy posed it: "Can you overcome the savage inequalities in the world—the millions who starve and die of preventable disease, etc.—without suppressing people's freedom and creativity and initiative? Or can you create a revolutionary society which will give expression to that—innovation, artistic flourishing—while meeting the needs of all the people, including the vast majority who for so long have been cut out of the world of ideas? Confronting this contradiction in a new way is a major aspect of the new synthesis of communism being developed by Bob Avakian—which is at the core of Revolution Books..."
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A bookstore volunteer, who was probably not born when The Fever was first performed by Wallace Shawn in 1990, said after the play, "It was incredible. That was about everything I've been going through for the past six months, everything I've been confronting about the world and my place in it..."
One person in the audience, a writer who performed one-man shows in the '80s, said, "That hour and a half lives with you for a long time. It is really difficult to capture an audience and hold them like that. But this was seamless story-telling, we felt that we're in on this."
The evening raised $1,500 for Revolution Books through tickets and donations. This took the bookstore to $10,000 of its $40,000 goal needed by the fall. Much of the work in promoting the play was done by new volunteers, people in theater and film who want to save the store, who love Wallace Shawn or who read this play and were blown away. The press work was done by a playwright, actor and former news reporter who answered a call sent to theater organizations for a volunteer to promote the event.
This performance of The Fever is the first of several benefit theater evenings at Revolution Books. On August 23, the bookstore will present the second in the series: Broadway actor Mike Milligan performing his new piece Mercy Killers, a one-person play about a man confronting his wife's terminal illness in a society where there's no right to decent health care, to shelter... no right to live or die like a human being.
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