Angela is taking refuge in her basement in anticipation of a great storm about to hit, a tornado of potentially unmeasurable destruction. She is scared. She is alone. And she begins to talk, to herself and to us, the audience. In this hour long theater piece, we will learn of this 40 something woman’s entire life- her family, her work, her fascination with numbers, her loves, and her fears in a non-linear, stream-of-conscious, rapid-fire self-expose.
I recently learned that Laura Gunderson, who wrote “Natural Shocks,” is currently America’s most produced living playwright. And this play had special meaning for her. When she was in high school, the shooting at Columbine High School affected her profoundly. While writing “Natural Shocks” years later, the Parkland shooting took place. She decided to turn her work into a statement of anti-guns and anti-violence, to unite the theater community against such horrific acts, acts that can occur on the spur of a moment, like a tornado.
Throughout the piece, Angela, a numbers geek, is constantly figuring out the odds of everything, including the chances of surviving the storm. She tells us that she is a professional worrier, and this helps to sooth her. In a similar fashion, she tries to predict the probability of her future life. And life is something that is one of her worries. The title, “Natural Shocks” are words in “Hamlet’s” famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy. She is questioning existence as did Hamlet. Do we believe Hamlet? Should we believe Angela?
We care about her. We learn about the difficult times she had with her mother. We sympathize with the troubles she’s had with her husband. We want her to find a way out. But amidst all the joking (it’s a bit of standup at times), she also tells us that some of what she told us earlier was not true.
Each story is punctuated with numbers, separating statistics (percentages about the past) from probability (percentages about the future). It’s all quite amusing, but it feels like an essay for three-quarters of the play. It gets tedious, and we wonder where it is going. There is no real conflict.
In the final quarter, we start to better understand her struggle as she reveals more. But while many of Gunderson’s words clearly should have had an emotional impact they didn’t. They didn’t for two reasons.
Laura is played by the talented, award winning actor, Amanda Schoonover. We learn that Laura has been married for over two decades. But for some reason, Schoonover portrays Laura, not as a complicated woman, but like an eighteen-year old. She works the comic lines, but gives little attention to the depth of her dilemma, of her feelings. She zips through the those lines as if she is trying to finish it in the advertised 65 minutes. Rather than take us to the violence that underlies the play, the rhythm that she and Director Elise D’Avella develop distracts from the substance of Gundrson’s words. What Laura is talking about IS important. The way manner in which she rambled, made it less so.
It is never a joy to give any sort of negative review. My friend, who saw it with me, didn’t find the pacing as troublesome as I did. Simpatico Theatre has a policy of paying what you decide after the play. I’m sure there were a variety of different payments.
“Natural Shocks.” Simpatico Theatre at The Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks St., Phila., PA, https://ci.ovationtix.com/35118/production/1016957 for reservations, simpaticotheatre.org, 267-437-7529, Thru Dec. 22, 2019.