Gregory Thornsbury and Rick Lattimer
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
Fever isn't your garden-variety interpretation of Philoctetes. (There's not even really a garden, considering how rarely Sophocles's ancient play is revived.) Dave McCracken's take on the Greek hero, beefed up with homoerotic overtones and passion, and overdosing on philosophy, is an imaginative and well-intentioned but ultimately overcooked and flawed version of the classic.
Fever has a lot of heart, though. The opening entices the senses with airy sound effects and a large beige carpet meant to represent a sand dune. At once, we're transported to a forgotten, isolated land. Instead of togas, sandals, and armor, McCracken's warriors wear black slacks, T-shirts, and fingerless leather gloves. The men may not look or act like traditional warriors on a battlefield, but Atrox's (Greg Thornsbury) and Virtus's (Rick Lattimer) biker gear suggests strength. As they talk (and talk and talk) about what they plan to do with Bonitas (McCracken's Philoctetes/Latin lover hybrid) when they find him, Thornsbury acts like a cartoonish warrior, his face so full of grimaces and smiles that he looks like Popeye. Lattimer's Virtus employs mental and emotional tactics instead, ready to tackle Bonitas with soft, angelic looks and false earnestness. Together, Virtus and Atrox look like the sort of soldiers you might find at a BDSM party. McCracken's direction has Thornsbury gazing frequently into the audience instead of at Lattimer, which weakens his motivational speeches and duplicitous ways. But Virtus still carries on with Atrox's bidding. At first.
Instead of the regal and commanding figure that he was expecting, Virtus finds that Bonitas has been made quite vulnerable from his pain and living conditions. Bonitas' clothes are tattered and torn, his leg is wrapped in a tourniquet, and hygiene--forget it. Belmonte's Latin accent allows him to bring real strength and emotion to his scenes, but at the same time, threatens to obscure his speech. The more he rages, the less intelligible he is.
The fight choreography, although done in a large, slow-paced manner that suggests that gods are fighting (Think of Clash of the Titans), is more romantic wrestling than epic action. The play is awash in sex--badly acted in some spots--and that makes it hard to take the production seriously. Luckily, every time things drift off course, the fantastically hellish side effects anchor the audience back to the plot. Poor Bonitas paints himself as an immortal cesspool of emotional issues and a filter for amplified negative energy. Alliances are formed, questioned, and then changed, all within the span of a very long Act One.
Act Two, significantly shorter, has the most interesting ideas. We find out that Atrox is responsible for creating religion (a creative idea in and of itself, but executed poorly, more of a bash of Christianity than anything). The comparison between Horus and Jesus and the notion that Bonitas began the Crusades stand out as especially imaginative, but the attack on organized religion should have been introduced in Act One (a lot more time to develop there), and not stuffed into Act Two. McCracken often intersects the mythical world with the real one in dialogue, but doesn't always meld the two well. A lot of trickery and deceit is bandied back and forth until the final, mostly satisfying conclusion.
According to McCracken, Fever is about "the struggle between good and evil for the souls of mankind," but it isn't always clear which character is playing good, evil, or mankind. The audience may want to sympathize with Bonitas one minute, but then switch to Virtus, and back. In so doing, the play utilizes the fickleness of mankind as well, to switch between the two ideals. Fever may be too long, preachy, slow-paced, and overbaked, but it does represent the human condition. If it had taken the shortest and most direct path to achieve that, it would have fared a lot better.
Through July 5th. Tickets: $25. The Dionysus Theater's L'IL PEACH 270 West 36th Street(at 8th Ave.)New York City, NY 10018
(646) 621-5171, info@GrapevineTickets.com