The premise of Lauren Gunderon’s Natural Shocks: A One-woman Play in a Tornado certainly holds a certain fascination. An insurance woman is holed up in her basement during a tornado alone with her thoughts, the random items around her and a gun. It almost begs the question “What could go wrong?” Director Sasha Maya Ada crafted Anderson’s story with actor Liz Sankarsingh into less of a play and more of an experience that was equal parts hilarious, thoughtful and devastating.
As a storm rages outside, Angela finds sanctuary in her home’s basement where she is initially freaked out by the impending disaster. She’s scared and frantically blurting out thoughts at rapid-fire speed. She then finds a certain calmness as she reflects on the sum of her life’s parts: the relationship with her mother, the state of her marriage, the thrill of math and numbers and actuarial sciences in her job as an insurance agent and an extramarital affair. Angela runs the gamut of emotions from happiness to desperate all with an undertone of fragile doom.
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Sankarsingh had the burden of carrying these emotions either one by one or all at once in Natural Shocks‘ opening night last Friday at the Bath House Cultural Center. She also had a monologue that was nonstop for the hour-and-a-half-ish length of the show. Gunderson doesn’t write light either. The script was dense and muscular with words fused with a spectrum of feels. Sankarsingh knocked every word of it out into the nearby lake.
Sankarsingh inhabited Angela so convincingly that all the character’s angst and joy felt painfully real. Her performance was quite mesmerizing that the audience was clearly engaged by its silence during the more dramatic passages. But Sankarsingh can deliver a joke as well and Angela’s humor was well-conveyed through ridiculous mom-jokes and punchlines.
But the show’s strength was in its more emotional moments. Ada directed those scenes with a quiet delicacy that Sankarsingh unraveled with aching heartbreak. The material was rough and often touched on violence and abuse. Sankarsingh brought both a strength to Angela’s resilience but also a distinct resignation as well.
Technically, the show may seem simple with the one basement setting that reached out slightly into the audience. Claire DeVries created a proper basement for Sankarsingh to move around in but even with house junk, it kept the eye moving when not on the actor. Jamie Milligan’s lighting added the drama of the storm but also gave weight to Angela’s inner struggles as Sankarsingh went through all of them. Isa Flores’ SFX design was crucial toward the end and enhanced the gut-wrenching finale.
Natural Shocks: A One-woman Play in a Tornado packed more than one punch under Ada’s direction and Sankarsingh’s tenacity in this thought-provoking story that will stay with you well after you get in the car and drive away.
The show runs through Saturday. For tickets, click here.
— Rich Lopez