The Fever Syndrome review – a family home, and its dramas and rivalries, dissected | Stage


This drama declares its central theme in its striking design: a multilevel family home, cut open so we can observe what is said and done in every room as well as the front-of-stage dining table.

The Myers are the well-to-do New York brood who collect around it to celebrate their father’s lifetime award for services to science. Professor Richard Myers (Robert Lindsay) was an IVF pioneer but now has Parkinson’s disease, and his job’s central metaphor – of creating new life – plays out in his family’s discussions around children, parents, legacies and inheritances.

Siblings arrive, bicker, pick at old wounds, and occasionally bond. There is fine acting all round, not only from Lindsay as the “colossus” of a father now cared for by his third wife, Megan (Alexandra Gilbreath) but also his three children: the highly strung Dot (Lisa Dillon), the artist Thomas (Alex Waldmann) and his charismatic twin Anthony (Sam Marks). Their partners are added to the mix, as well as Dot’s daughter, Lily (Nancy Allsop) who has the autoimmune syndrome of the play’s title, which acts as kindling to the family conflagration.

Dazzling … Lizzie Clachan’s set.
Dazzling … Lizzie Clachan’s set. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz

Except that fire does not come roaring to life, exactly. If Alexis Zegerman’s play aspires to follow in the tradition of dysfunctional American family dramas, it lacks the fire of Sam Shepard’s face-offs, the emotional depth of Tennessee Williams and the tragicomedy of Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County, similarly set around an unhappy family reunion.

Under the direction of Roxana Silbert, scenes take place in different parts of the house and this builds a certain intimacy and tension, although the dramatic effects of their humdrum conversations never quite live up to the promise that lies in Lizzie Clachan’s dazzling design.

There is testiness and shouting around the dining table but this is not savage or soul-baring enough to drive the stakes sufficiently high. If this is a consummately middle-class family, their fights are a little too bourgeois and the drama is simply not as febrile as it would like to be. The Myers, in fact, do not seem especially dysfunctional, the drama ultimately reinforcing the power of family love and warmth, even if it seeks to do the opposite.

But it does have a soap opera quality which makes it easy to watch and some scenes come together with power: the moment Megan talks about her cracked hands, when she is really referring to an inner cracking up in her carer’s role; also when Dot speaks of the constant anxiety, and cost, of having an ill child.

Lindsay is the wobbling modern-day King Lear who apportions his kingdom – this New York brownstone and other financial assets – to his squabbling wife and children, and his part carries the wittiest lines as well as pathos.

Even though the production feels too long, at well over two hours, with rambling dialogue, not enough action or big enough conflict, there is ambition in the writing that must be admired.

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