Lauren Gunderson’s Natural Shocks stresses the importance of taking action against a very serious subject in America.

-Brenda Hillegas
Cover photo: Amanda Schoonover, by Kate Raines

There are many small theatre companies throughout the Philadelphia area that create powerful content in an intimate setting. On the lower level of the Drake, just a short distance from Broad Street, you’ll find the thought-provoking work of Simpatico Theatre’s 2019/2020 season. Right now, you can see Lauren Gunderson’s Natural Shocks, a fast-paced, sometimes comedic and sometimes heart-wrenching one-woman show that will encourage you to take action in the time of a crisis and start discussions about…

…well, you’ll soon see.

As we meet Angela, played by the absolutely incredible Amanda Schoonover, she’s taking shelter to ride out a tornado coming straight for her. The small theatre space is turned into a basement and the audience is down there with Angela as she speaks to everyone about what is happening. Angela often presents herself in an eccentric manner as she tells us anecdotes from her past and in-depth stories about relationships with others. But why? What is she trying to tell us? You’ll have a lot of questions as you get to know Angela and find out everything she is truly hiding from in her life. Everything she reveals rapidly unravels something big that’s about to take place.

Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwright in the country, is a long time gun safety advocate (she was a junior in high school when the Columbine tragedy occurred). Nearly two decades later, the writing of Natural Shocks coincided with the Parkland school shooting. So, yes, this play is actually a message about gun violence. But you need to see Natural Shocks for yourself to understand why a tornado is the reason we need to pay more attention to the constant stream of gun violence in our country.

Angela’s life is played out in front of us. She’s an insurance agent and is fascinated with statistics. The irony is that she knows the probability of most life-altering occurrences (natural or not) and how often they really happen. Still, we’re never fully prepared for what life throws at us. Even when we are able to walk out the door and save ourselves from what may be coming our way, do we? Can we? Natural Shocks is a nod to the famous Hamlet monologue, “to be or not to be…”. As Angela is put in a life-altering situation, she questions everything that brought her to this point. What does she do?

Natural Shocks does provide a lot of light chuckles, so the seriousness of the message at hand isn’t always dark. Yet, the plot is just like a tornado- suddenly switching paths and throwing new elements of surprise our way. Amanda Schoonover does a phenomenal job portraying a wide range of emotions and reactions in such a short amount of time. The show is performed without intermission so that we’re not able to pause from what’s in front of us. Schoonover, who is two-time Barrymore Award winner and a Philadelphia theatre scene favorite, never pauses either. She’s on point through the 60-minute play, never letting us slip from Angela’s grip. It takes a truly dedicated actor to do what she’s doing every night in Natural Shocks.

You’ll leave the theatre thinking hard about what you just saw. And hopefully you’ll want to continue those thoughts and feelings with others. You’ll think about people like Angela. How do they relate to you? Will their situations somehow, one day, impact your life? Have they already? What actions will you take?

The shows you’ll find at Simpatico Theatre’s 15th season have a common theme. “No Place/Like Home”. This season takes a look at where we live and how we live there. We’re asked to think about what happens when we feel out of place in our house, in our neighborhood. Simpatico, as well as other theatre companies that make use of the stages at the Drake, are “pay what you wish”. After you see a show like Natural Shocks, you can decide what the show meant to you, what you thought the performance was worth, and ultimately how much of a donation you’d like to give to cover your ticket. This process allows people simply enjoy the content that was meant to be seen and not worry about cost.

For more about Natural Shocks, which is performed through December 22nd, and to reserve a spot in Angela’s basement, please visit the Simpatico Theatre’s website here.

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