Fever Theater's New Believers is a continuation of work begun in January with their show Believers. While Believers examined cult behavior in a fairly straightforward fashion, the new show takes a more abstract approach to the broader questions of why people need to believe in things, and why they believe the things that they do. Frankly, I liked the show better in January, when it was more about how crazy Scientologists are (so crazy!), and less about trying to manipulate the audience into having a spiritual awakening.
While the show isn't preachy—it's not like Fever is handing out prayer tracts—it does adopt a somber, self-serious tone that, paradoxically, makes it very difficult to take seriously.
The first segment of this nonlinear show is dedicated to getting the audience into a spiritually receptive frame of mind. The audience is split into two groups and led off in different directions: Upstairs, to sit in a circle around a red-clad, sinuously contorting Amber Whitehall, who hands out strawberries and gracefully hacks up flower petals; or downstairs, to sit in another circle while a shirtless Jacob Coleman solemnly bathes the feet of audience members (only those who have indicated their comfort with a high level of interactivity). At the foot-bathing point in the production, two of my fellow audience members got the giggles real bad, almost derailing the entire segment—but I'm pretty sure Fever wasn't joking.
This company's strengths are in their sense of humor, their elegant, offbeat choreography, their willingness to take risks, and, best of all, their flair for campy musical numbers. And all of these elements are present here, but unfortunately the show overreaches, burying moments of wit and energy beneath some infuriatingly precious conceits. At its worst, the show veers between talking down to audience members (via arch, Waking Life-esque ramblings about the nature of reality) and earnestly but misguidedly aiming to spiritually engage them; at its best, it's funny, lively, and quirky. It's great to see a company charging full on into challenging material: Here's hoping that one of these days Fever lets their strengths drive their approach to their material, instead of letting high concepts bog down their strengths.