It’s unfair to say that “Natural Shocks” by Lauren Gunderson (04C) is simply an hour-long monologue — it’s a movement. It’s a statement and a commentary on the issues we are all too often afraid to broach in the theater.
“A national campaign of theater activism against gun violence,” according to Gunderson, the 65-minute, one-woman show was performed by Luisa Cuervo Price (12C) on April 21 in a small classroom in the Rich Memorial Building. Though small, the crowd was welcoming and the atmosphere encouraging. Gunderson worked with fellow Emory alumna, Christina Wallace (04C), for “Natural Shocks” to be read by various actors in all 50 states between April 19 and 22, according to the “Natural Shocks” website.
“Natural Shocks” begins with a woman trapped in an imaginary basement, a tornado looming. Despite the intense setting, Gunderson takes the audience on a character-focused journey — we learn about the speaker’s mother, her job and the dog that she wants to adopt. Simply referred to as “She,” the speaker is doing her best to survive. Through this hour-long conversation, we learn the tornado and the basement isn’t real. Rather than preparing for a natural disaster, She bought a gun and is actually preparing for her abusive husband’s arrival. By the end of the show we learn that an hour ago, just before the show started, she told her husband she was leaving him. By the end of the play he has arrived at the basement door livid and with a gun.
Although the show begins with a focus on the impending natural disaster, it soon turns into an incredibly striking commentary on gun violence. Gunderson, the most produced playwright in America this year, brings attention to an issue she has felt strongly about ever since the Columbine school shooting in 1999. On the show’s website, Gunderson talks about being in high school and feeling a need to take action.
Just before She’s onstage death, we receive a number of frightening statistics on gun violence in homes and schools. Audience members are encouraged to donate to Moms Demand Action instead of purchasing tickets.
The reading itself was engaging and dramatic. The script bounced from topic to topic, endearing She to the audience slowly but surely. Price, for her part, played She with an eagerness and sincerity that was evident throughout her performance. While her performance was a bit one-note at times, the material was clearly meaningful to Price, which made it meaningful to the audience. Price embodied the character, sometimes causing the audience to forget she was acting. She made excellent use of the space, taking advantage of the unusual architecture of classroom 205, which has a large pit at one end of the room.
Overall, “Natural Shocks” was a meaningful and timely piece of theater. While there was a small audience, the knowledge that the same show was being read and performed all over the country gave it a sense of community that the average play lacks. The script was lively and musical (She sings pieces of “Get Happy” by Judy Garland throughout the show), and transitions into different emotional moments naturally. Gunderson’s words and Price’s voice added important components to an ongoing and pressing debate. “Natural Shocks” not only highlighted theater’s ability to confront issues that matter to us today, but proved that it should be used in that manner.
Correction (4/25/18 at 11:48 a.m.): Price graduated in 2012, not 2004.