The Fever Syndrome
Reviewed – 5th April 2022
“there isn’t a weak performance in the whole cast”
Alexis Zegerman’s new play, The Fever Syndrome, set in New York, is about a driven, intellectual family dealing with life changing illness. Front and centre in the drama is patriarch Richard Myers, living with the last stages of Parkinson’s. His only grandchild, Lily, suffers from a mysterious genetic disease characterized by high fevers. In both cases, though in very different ways, both grandfather and grandchild are afflicted by diseases that are literally attacking their chances at life. It turns out that their family, rife with internecine rivalry, is also attacking people’s chances at life, despite the display of liberal politics and cutting edge business ideas. Zegerman’s play does capture much of the authenticity of American family life, at least in New York City, but many Americans may feel that it takes more than a dogged commitment to the Mets baseball team to make Richard Myers a truly sympathetic character. The Fever Syndrome is disappointing, ultimately, since it is unclear who we are supposed to be rooting for.
The Fever Syndrome is a long play. Unnecessarily long. It’s the sort of drama that Netflix would divide into several episodes, and we’d all be grateful for the break between the intense scenes that characterize unfinished business between father and children. Scenes that draw in partners — both established, and new to the family dynamics — and all the children, past and present, that present in flickering movements, both real and surreal. In the constant upheaval, it’s easy to lose track of the event that has gathered the family together, and which marks the starting point for this sprawling plot. Richard Myers has been awarded the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for his work in IVF (which produced the so called “test tube babies”) allowing infertile couples to have children of their own. In the living room of Richard’s New York brownstone is a space dedicated to all the families he has helped to create. It is ironic, therefore, that his own family is constantly on the brink of disintegration. The Fever Syndrome is, at its heart, about a groundbreaking scientist who brought all these children into the world but couldn’t raise his own. And despite the scientific gloss — the references to RIchard’s work, and later, the diseases that are systematically and relentlessly destroying his life and Lily, his granddaughter’s life —this is what the play is about. Another American family, rent from within by toxic parent child relationships, and playing out psycho-logical dramas that hint at Sophoclean proportions, on their living room floors. This is overly familiar territory, despite all the contemporary trimmings.
Director Roxana Silbert has assembled a cast brimming with talent, and a terrific design team for The Fever Syndrome. Robert Lindsay, as Richard, does, like the character he plays, award worthy work. Lindsay plays the fractious father and Parkinson’s sufferer so well that it is easy to forget that he manages comedy, and musicals, just as effortlessly. He is well matched by Alexandra Gilbreath, playing Richard’s third wife, Megan. Both actors are completely in command of the layered, complex characters that Zegerman has created. But then, there isn’t a weak performance in the whole cast. The adult children, Dot (Lisa Dillon), Thomas (Alex Waldmann) and Anthony (Sam Marks) play out their rivalries in ways that shift the audience’s sympathies from one to the other like watching an intense tennis match. Their partners Nate (Bo Poraj) and Philip (Jake Fairbrother) watch from the sidelines until they can take no more. And at the still centre of the family storm is teenager Lily (Nancy Allsop) and, from time to time, the mysterious young Dot (Charlotte Pourret Wythe) who can only be seen by Richard. The set, designed by Lizzie Clachan, is also award worthy, making the most of the Hampstead Theatre’s stage to create a fitting backdrop to this complicated family’s dynamics. There is much to admire in this production, despite its length, and the lack of a satisfying ending.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Ellie Kurttz
The Fever Syndrome
Hampstead Theatre until 30th April
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