She is reminded of such perils as driving cars and smoking cigarettes, and the topic of “Risk Literacy.” She knows that nature is not good or perfect which she tells us is called the “naturalistic fallacy.” This leads to thoughts of her bad relationship with her mother who died of cancer and that her mother never liked her husband and warned her against marrying him. Things have been getting worse lately with him and he has stormed out of the house, just before the tornado warning. As the winds pick up and the storm can be heard approaching, Angela reveals that she likes to lie and a great deal she has said is not entirely true. But like T.S. Eliot’s “‘objective correlative,” the storm is just as much inside Angela as outside of her window.
Played by Pascale Armand, known for her Tony nominated Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in Eclipsed, Angela is the heroine of Lauren Gunderson’s new one-woman play, Natural Shocks, being given its world premiere by the Women’s Project at the WP Theater. The play has previously been given over 100 staged readings in 45 states over a period of two months. As much as one wants to admire this tour de force for an accomplished actress, in its current form the play has several problems.
The biggest problem is that we never know to whom Angela is talking although she addresses us as though we are in the basement with her. But how and why are we there? She says that she wishes it could “have been a nice ice cream social or a super boozey cocktail party” but there is no explanation of how we find ourselves in her basement during this storm. After “recognizing” us, she never refers to us again until just before the end of the play when she asks us to be her judges.
Solo plays of even 75 minutes are difficult as the author has to continually find new topics for the hero or heroine to talk about to keep them going. The stream of consciousness narration here often feels like filler until Gunderson gets where she wants to go. It turns out the storm is not her real topic and the play takes a 90 degree turn about three-quarters of the way through the play, but to say more would be a spoilier. This final part is much more dramatic but it is not really set up by what Angela says earlier except that she has prepared us by saying she often lies which “sometimes it makes things easier.”
Armand is an engaging performer and through most of the time she has us in the palm of her hand. However, as directed by May Adrales, the confessional tone is played at the same level almost throughout which becomes less and less dramatic. Her Angela seems so in control and together that it comes as kind of a shock that near the end we discover that she has not been coping at all.
While Lee Savage’s basement set is convincing enough, it doesn’t give Armand much to work with. She climbs up on a table to look out the high window, she sits on a red blanket and she takes her gun out of the safe in the closet but does not make any other use of the setting. Jen Caprio’s contemporary costume does fit a sudden descent into the basement in the wake of the storm. The sound design by Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes is fine as far as it goes with the periodic howling wind, but there are long passages where we completely forget that a storm is approaching.
Natural Shocks by Lauren Gunderson (whose Bauer and I and You reached New York in their Bay Area productions, in 2014 and 2016 respectively) is generally a compelling play on important and topical themes. However, in its current form it leaves several dramaturgical questions unsolved. Nevertheless, the tremendously talented Pascale Armand has been given a tour de force role in this one-woman monodrama.
Natural Shocks (through November 25, 2018)
McGinn-Cazale Theater, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street, 4th floor, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3001 or 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.wptheater.org
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission