When the end of the world finally comes—and hey, we watch CNN: we know it’s nigh—if you’re very, very lucky, you’ll get to spend the last hour with Amanda Schoonover.
Well, in the case of Lauren Gunderson’s play, Natural Shocks, it’s not exactly Amanda—it’s Angela, a role she plays with such consummate skill, empathy, and power that we can’t bear the idea we’ll ultimately have to say goodbye.
Because somehow we know—despite every hope to the contrary—that leave-taking is imminent. Certainly the tornado we hear outside sounds dire; it’s sent Angela down to this rather gloomy basement, where magically we all seem to be gathered, as if guests in her rumpus room. And if the winds don’t do us in, there’s the gun in the closet, that Angela mentions almost off-handedly.
But even if we manage to get through all of that unscathed, we intuit that there’s more. Cheerful, funny, and people-pleasing as Angela is, intermittent cracks break through the surface. And let’s face it—would a truly sunny person be obsessed with Hamlet’s suicidal impulses? (“Natural shocks” is a quote from the iconic “To be or not to be” soliloquy.)
Yet, we push all this out of our minds, because Angela/Amanda is such beguiling company. Nothing—really nothing—about her life is exceptional. She works as an insurance agent; good with numbers, she realizes she should have aspired to more, and day dreams of being an actuary. (Let that sink in for a minute.) She also hopes someday to own a dog, and takes momentary pleasure in recalling a trip to Epcot.
Like I said—an unexceptional life. Yet in the hour we spend with her, we come to care about her quite deeply.
That is due in great part to Schoonover. I wish Gunderson’s play were as good as she is. But though it’s often gripping, deeply earnest, and tells a story we all need to hear, Natural Shocks doesn’t overcome some clichéd and heavy-handed writing.
But I urge you to see it all the same. It takes on a hugely important topic; it’s beautifully produced here at Simpatico by director Elise D’Avella, with fine design work by Marie Laster (scenery and props), Rikki Etter (lighting), Damien Figueras (sound), and Ariel Wang (costumes); and the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake is an ideally intimate venue.
And most of all, there’s Schoonover—a treasured Philadelphia actor who here does some of the finest work I’ve ever seen from her. She makes the ordinary extraordinary.
Natural Shocks plays through December 22nd. For more information, visit the Simpatico Theatre website