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‘The Catastrophist’: A Timely One-Man play for the Pandemic

The Catastrophist
By Cicero A. Estrella

Acclaimed playwright Lauren Gunderson’s latest work The Catastrophist centers around “virus hunter” Nathan Wolfe, and is obviously well-suited for our social-distancing times. And she knows her subject very well—he happens to be her husband.

A play about her spouse? Gunderson said she initially rejected the idea when Jasson Minadakis, the artistic director for the Marin Theatre Company, first approached her with the concept.

“But the idea started to make more and more sense,” Gunderson said. “Of course, I told Nathan what I was writing and asked his permission, but I didn’t let him read it or see it until the very first rehearsal with our brilliant actor, Bill DeMeritt.”

Marin Theatre Company and Round House Theatre teamed to produce the one-man show, which is available for streaming through Feb. 28.

The Catastrophist

“I wanted (Wolfe) to not only be the subject of the play, but its first audience,” Gunderson said. “He laughed. He cried. He gave me notes on the science. This play has been both the hardest play I’ve ever written and the most meaningful. What a joy to share it so widely.”

Time Magazine named virologist Wolfe one of its most influential people in the world for his work tracking Ebola and swine flu. He had proposed pandemic insurance long before the current COVID-19 outbreak; the idea was largely ignored.

Gunderson’s time-jumping tale goes into a deep dive into the profundities of scientific exploration and the harrowing realities of facing one’s own mortality.

The play—which was filmed on stage at Marin’s Boyer Theatre—might be entirely digital,  but audiences are encouraged to gather a small list of household items to make viewing it a somewhat interactive affair.

“There really couldn’t be a more timely production than The Catastrophist, in content or presentation,” said Ryan Rilette, Round House’s artistic director. “In the midst of a global pandemic, Lauren Gunderson has created a deeply personal story about the man who has been sounding the alarm on them for years.”

The Catastrophist

Said Minadakis: “When the reality sunk in that we would not be in theaters in 2020, Lauren and I began discussing the project that could live between the worlds of theater and film in a virtual space, and The Catastrophist went straight into development as a new commission. A work of great intimacy and immediacy, The Catastrophist is like nothing Lauren has attempted before, a startling portrait of one of our most important scientific thinkers.”

Gunderson has been one of the country’s most-produced playwrights since 2015. She is a two-time winner of the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for “ and You and The Book of Will. Her other works include The Half-Life of Marie Curie, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, The Revolutionists and Silent Sky.

DeMeritt is an actor and dialect coach making his MTC and Round House debuts. His off-Broadway credits include The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead and Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles?

Tickets for on-demand streaming are $30. Tickets are available at marintheatre.org, or by calling (415) 388-5208.

Photo: Marin Theatre Company

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