Fever Theater is a stylish, witty, brainy ensemble with a tendency to aim high—sometimes too high, yielding mixed results. I caught a preview of Mitlaufer last Wednesday, where it was obvious that Fever has finally managed to effectively harness their prodigious talents without sacrificing any ambition.
Without giving away too much about the plot, the basic idea is this: An advertising agency known as the Pandemonium Institute has developed a way to exploit the creativity of the starving artist class. The agency pays for artists to live in a controlled environment where their behavior is monitored and outside influence is restricted. The artists are provided with "inspiration" that relates directly to certain products, in the hopes of eliciting artwork that can be used in ad campaigns.
During the audience's introduction to the Pandemonium Institute, a manic and hilarious biography of Leni Riefenstahl is presented, with the inspired assistance of local band Iretsu. Riefenstahl, who made the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, is identified as a good candidate for the Institute, which would have protected her talents from corrupting influences (though she was never a member of the Nazi party, she was officially considered a mitlaufer, or fellow traveler). The interactive production is complete with a guided tour of the Institute, and behind the scenes access to how the Institute really works.
While I loved every minute of the show, I couldn't help but agree with one audience member who noted that there was something of a "So what?" quality to the parallels between Riefenstahl and residents of the Institute. Far more interesting is Fever's implication of the audience, which begins as soon as you walk in the door. It's a brilliant move: In a play about Nazi Germany and the commercialization of art, Fever creates an environment in which one enthusiastically participates in something without fully understanding the significance of that participation. The thought-provoking, entirely engaging production moves beyond pure spectacle into the realm of genuine experience—and in a town full of artists, it's really an experience that shouldn't be missed.