Northlight Theatre Presents THE CATASTROPHIST Review — Pandemic Predictor Story

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One can imagine that the pandemic playwriting challenge posed to prolific playwright Lauren Gunderson – known for works that dive into the heart of scientific discovery—began like this—

“…Okay Lauren, give us a work that fits in explanations of prokaryotes and eukaryotes to audience members who only remotely remember learning the terms in high school.  Work in some references to zoonotic infections to make it pandemic timely. Then, add in some spice talking about those micromorts- the one in a million chance of dying.  You know—mountain climbing up there with childbirth and…”

Actually, such an assignment to award-winning playwright Lauren Gunderson might be a no-brainer.  But the real-world task she was given was to write a play about one of the world’s most influential virologists of our time, Nathan Wolfe, who btw, just happens to be her husband.  

Yes, she is married to TED-talker Nathan Wolfe, who had a lot to do with our getting on top of the dreaded Ebola and has long been known for saying we were ill-prepared for the pandemics of today and tomorrow.   We learn from the program notes that her instincts were to never put her spouse – and by connection- her marriage, on display.  But then…

She came around.

Northlight Theatre THE CATASTROPHIST
Northlight Theatre THE CATASTROPHIST
Northlight Theatre THE CATASTROPHIST

Northlight Theatre Presents Work Commissioned by Marin Theatre Company and Round House Theatre

What resulted is the one-man show THE CATASTROPHIST, replete with breaking fourth wall teasers, and perhaps being one of the first scripts – or perhaps just one of the most memorable--  to also flirt with breaking open and letting us in on that Nth wall, that structure the much-married traverse 24/7. 

This is an intimate story, that this writer imagines is enriched by the playwright being able to finish her husband’s sentences, as he hers.  This streaming production makes it all the more intimate by keeping the camera trained on actor William DeMeritt’s expressive face, only breaking into a split camera rarely or showing his body shot.  DeMeritt’s performance keeps us glued.

The primer on the Tree of Life and other scientific windows charms, but the real meat of the story is that of a man coming to face his mortality, or rather, giving the topic a good chew as both he and his surgeons help him kick that can down the road.  Gunderson plays with us by calling many a scene the final scene, perhaps aware that at times the script does seem to want a trim or a good shot of espresso. In this writer's view, this is one of those plays where the final scene is yet to be written because the wheel of life keeps turning…

Those who shy away from pandemic streamed fare should give this one a shot, in this writer’s view.  If you love slice-of-life character studies this should be a top pick. If you have an appreciation for scientific discovery and the work done by the likes of the Nathan Wolfe’s of the land, change your schedule to make sure you see this.


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William DeMeritt (Nathan)

Creative Team: 

Peter Ruocco (Director of Photography/ Editor) 
Martine Kei Green-Rogers (Dramaturg)
Wen-Ling Liao (Lighting Designer)
Chris Houston/Implied Music (Composer/Sound Designer)
Sarah Smith (Costume Designer)
Christina Hogan(Assistant Director)
Nakissa Etemad (Producer)


Through March 31st


On Demand


For tickets visit the Northlight Theatre website
Photos courtesy of Northlight Theatre
Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.


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