This New York-set family drama is a spitting cauldron of pain, resentments and revelations in the grand mid-twentieth-century American tradition. In fact, it’s a brand new play written by British playwright-actor Alexis Zegerman (who as a performer has worked with Mike Leigh on stage and screen) and it’s set in a grand Upper West Side brownstone on the eve and morning of a tribute event to the family’s ailing patriarch, Professor Richard Myers (Robert Lindsay), a fictional pioneer of IVF treatment who is now on a downward curve with Parkinson’s Disease.
Myers’s three adult children from two previous relationships, and two of their partners, come to stay with him and his attendant partner Megan (Alexandra Gilbreath) from various corners of the country, kicking off an intense inquiry into parenthood and parenting, science versus art and religion, with diversions along the way focusing on cryptocurrency, inheritance, sibling hang-ups, chronic illness and plagiarism.
If that sounds like a long list, it increasingly feels like one as the play goes on: Zegerman squeezes so many debates and ruminations into her story that it becomes exhausting. The characters are often individually interesting, and the performances under the direction of Hampstead’s artistic director Roxana Silbert, are spirited. But too often this feels like a series of mini-plays competing for our attention, all under the same claustrophobic roof.
So many crises play out before our eyes – eldest sibling Dot (Lisa Dillon) has a 12-year-old daughter with a serious medical condition; twins Anthony (Sam Marks) and Thomas (Alex Waldmann) are respectively hiding financial and romantic woes – that none of them fully grab the attention. Lizzie Clachan’s arresting set is a highlight. It offers a cross-section of this home’s three floors and many rooms - like a doll’s house cut in two. It stresses the disharmony of this family: fractured, unhappy, unaligned.
Lindsay’s Lear-like Myers is a curious lead: both domineering and fading, past his prime but still preventing his varied brood from moving on and finding a future. There’s something inherently affable about him. Perhaps another actor would take this role in a more steely, less sympathetic direction. An expected coming-together of this ambitious play’s various ideas and themes never arrives, and ‘The Fever Syndrome’ simply stumbles to a close in the final act. A sense of greatness diminished and much left to be resolved feels apt - but dramatically it leaves a lot hanging.