I spent hours after the ending of “Natural Shocks” trying to figure out why I didn’t care about Angela.
Played by Jennifer Vosters, Angela is the one and only character in the play by Lauren Gunderson, whom theater people never tire of telling us is the most produced living playwright in the United States. It is open at Next Act Theatre.
I’ve seen a lot of Ms. Gunderson’s work and she is worthy of all the admiration.
So, what was it that kept me from giving a damn about Angela.
Angela is in her basement and we are with her. She tells us about the tornado that is coming, complete with realistic sound design by Peter Goode. The noise is fearsome and yet, there is something disconcerting about how intermittent it is.
I can only guess that when a tornado is coming, it arrives with ferocity, does its damage, and then leaves that eerie quiet. This tornado shouts, goes mute, shouts again minutes later and then is quiet. Like I say, it sounded both real and fake.
As if she is certain she will be a victim of the tornado, Angela spends an hour telling us all about her life. She started out life as a croupier in a casino, where she met the man who would become her husband.
She loved math and probabilities and eventually ended up as an insurance agent, pushing numbers and policies. She told us all about the chances of a wide variety of potential danger.
She also brought her deceased mother into the discussion and, like so many people, her relationship with dear mommy was complicated, to say the least. From the moments of childhood joy, holding hands walking through a Disney amusement park just after the man of the house had split for good, to the claims that this boy was not the right match for Angela.
For Angela, life is a series of fantasies and lies that have helped hold her interest level high in her own life.
“The great lie of my life,” she admits, “is that I am happy with him.”
Aha! That’s what this is about. She’s unhappy with her husband, and lo and behold as we move along through all the ordinary stuff of herlife, we can feel that she is approaching some kind of dramatic act in her marriage.
“You live next to a flower,” she tells us/him, “I live next to a bomb.”
She’s sad. But more than that she is scared, of him and of leaving him. She’s thought about it before, even planned it, but still, a decade later, she is still stuck here.
And that may be my problem with this play.
Angela doesn’t seem like she’s very special at all. There doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason for us to invest our emotional capital in her life.
When I go to the theater I’m ready to join in whatever journey takes place on a stage. I’ll give it up, but I’ve got to know why I’m reacting and what I’m reacting to.
Part of the issue with this production, which has received generally positive reviews around the country, is Ms. Vosters.
I have great admiration for all of the dedication and work she has put into building her career.
But Angela is a woman with scars on her soul and miles on her shoulders. Ms. Vosters looks like an unsullied 20-year-old blonde. She could be sitting in the third row of a freshman English Lit lecture hall.
She pulls out all stops to try and put weight on the flimsy butterfly of a play but all her skills can’t lift this play out of something far more ordinary than I had hoped it would be.
Natural Shocks runs through June 13 at www.nextact.org
Production credits: Director, Michael Cotey; Sound Design and Editing, Peter Goode; Stage Manager, Jessica Connellly.