THE FEVER, at Stage Left Theatre. Wallace Shawn’s heartfelt 90-minute monologue by a man who finds himself desperately ill in an unnamed third world country raises many difficult questions about poverty, privilege, and the degree to which the poor of the world are exploited for Americans’ comfort. It’s also a middle-aged rant. As Shawn’s protagonist hugs the porcelain god, his feverish revolutionary thoughts recall the whiny, self-indulgent philosophy of Andre Gregory in Shawn’s My Dinner With Andre, reflecting the speaker’s bitterness at no longer being a coddled, affluent child as much as his sudden awareness of the world’s injustices to others.

There’s nothing in Shawn’s script, usually performed by men, to indicate that the speaker is male. But I never realized how much The Fever depends on the crabbiness of a man sliding into male menopause until I saw Susan Miller’s clean, direct, but only half successful delivery of the play. A recent graduate of Hampshire College, Miller clearly understands Shawn’s work on an intellectual level (even if she does mysteriously mispronounce the word “guerrilla” throughout). Something is missing at the gut level, however. We’re never fully convinced that Miller was ever really bent over a toilet delirious with pain, nor does she seem like someone facing a dark night of the soul.

This may be less a gender issue than a matter of experience, talent, or both. Whatever, Miller just can’t fully communicate the subtext twisting beneath Shawn’s words.

–Jack Helbig