One of the great joys of attending shows performed the Resident Ensemble Players, the University of Delaware’s professional company, is that after a few productions, it becomes clear that the actors have developed a shorthand with one another, and are able to slip into relationships comfortably and quickly, allowing the story to be told all that much more effectively. Over the past couple of seasons, for example, I can remember at least three occasions where Stephen Pelinski and Elizabeth Heflin have played a married couple- none of the three have been the same, but the relationship has never been in doubt. Now, with playwright Theresa Rebeck’s second foray into writing a piece specifically for this company, she has tapped into their shorthand and written a piece that highlights the strengths, challenges the expectations, and thrills the audience of this resident company.
FEVER is the story of a small group of regulars at a beautiful but not well populated independent bar. At rise, all are eavesdropping on a young couple (Michael Gotch and Carine Montbertrand). The man is getting increasingly anxious over the impending death of humanity by disease, and dismisses other forms of death as ‘what man does to himself’. The encounter ends with a drink to the face. Later, the regulars take sides in the argument, and a battle of the sexes grows among the group. In a parallel story, one of the regulars (played by Mic Matarrese) tries to convince the husband of the couple who owns the bar (Pelinski) to sell the bar (not the building, just the bar) as an historical art piece.
While setting a play in a bar with a small group of regulars is nothing new in theatre (see this season’s opener, THE WEIR, and many, many others), what sets this play afire is its essential nowness and simultaneous timelessness. The specific circumstances of the play could exist at no other time, and yet the themes exist throughout human history. Disease, war, gender relations, plays set in bars…all are as old as human history, and just as likely to continue to the end of it.
The true beauty of this production comes from the REP themselves. The chemistry they have developed over their short existence is unmatched by any cast I have seen that has only done a single production together. Much of the publicity around the production has recalled the works of Chekhov and Shakespeare coming from those writers having a specific company for whom to tailor their plays. In only two productions working together, the REP and Rebeck show that this theory has some meat to it. I will be delighted to see future collaborations, and just how far such a relationship can take these artists. Congratulations to director/Artistic Director Sanford Robbins and his company on a fantastic closure to the season, with a play that proves just how accurate their mission truly is. Bravo, Elizabeth Hefflin, Sephen Pelinski, Mic Matarrese, Steve Tague, Kathleen Pirkl Tague, Michael Gotch, Carine Montbertrand, and Deena Burke!
by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Sanford Robbins
Resident Ensemble Players, University of Delaware
Through May 4.
Roselle Center for the Performing Arts