A woman—the character description in Lauren Gunderson’s Natural Shocks calls her “She”—hunkers alone in her basement, waiting out an imminent tornado. She—again, according to Gunderson’s script—can be of any race, from any region, with any accent. She might wear something that makes the audience prejudge her.
That is, until the moment, in this 65-minute play that is part confessional, part comedic stand-up, part reckoning with gun violence, when a Gunderson-style twist prompts a change of heart.
Elise D’Avella, directing Natural Shocks at Simpatico Theatre this month, was searching for a play that would enable her to work with Philadelphia actor Amanda Schoonover; the two had previously collaborated on a Fringe show.
“We both had a similar reaction while reading [Natural Shocks],” D’Avella said. “I was thinking: This is good, but not really sure where it’s going…and then you get to the end, and it’s such an instantaneous, huge, emotional reaction. You see how well-crafted it all is.”
By a sleep to say we end
Gunderson was at work on the play, loosely based on Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy (“To die—to sleep,/No more; and by a sleep to say we end/The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to…”), when a former student opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17, on Valentine’s Day, 2018.
She’d been an advocate for gun control since she was a teenager, post-Columbine: writing op-eds, meeting with legislators and being excoriated on local conservative talk radio shows. Gunderson made Natural Shocks part of a national campaign against gun violence, encouraging communities around the country to stage royalty-free readings of the play in April 2018 and to give proceeds from tickets or donations to advocacy groups such as Moms Demand Action. More than 75 communities took part.
Nearly two years later, with gun violence still rampant nationwide, the play is no less urgent, says D’Avella. “The character tells so many stories that make me think, yeah, this is exactly how I feel right now—looking at these events, at people in charge who are seemingly doing nothing about it, that feeling of hopelessness.”
D’Avella hopes the production, with its murky lighting, insistent soundscape, whiplash ending—and, yes, comic respite—will add up to an “aha” of recognition. “[Gunderson] invites us to create a character whom the audience will judge immediately. Throughout the play, you get to know her more. I hope people will take away empathy.”
What, Where, When:
Natural Shocks will be performed in the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, 302 South Hicks Street, December 4-22. Tickets can be purchased online. The theater is ADA compliant. Call for information about accessibility: (267) 437-7529.