Helmed by Marin artistic director Jasson Minadakis — who served in that same capacity with Atlanta’s Actor’s Express back in the early-to-mid 2000s — and featuring photography and editing by Peter Ruocco, the one-man play stars an earnest William DeMeritt as Nathan Wolfe, a renowned virologist and epidemiologist who also happens to be Gunderson’s real-life husband.
Surprisingly (and disappointingly), although Gunderson wrote it during the early stages of last year’s shutdown, there’s nary a mention of COVID-19 in “The Catastrophist,” or Wolfe’s reaction to it. From a bare stage in front of an auditorium of empty seats, the character basically delivers a classroom lecture in two dozen or so short scenes, about infectious diseases and biological diversity in general, eukaryotes and prokaryotes, his work with the Ebola outbreak in Cameroon, and the concept of pandemic insurance.
His intimate asides to the camera are often forced and pretentious. Wolfe talks about his Jewish upbringing in the 1970s, about the early death rate among the men in his family, and mostly about his father, who taught him about social justice and “do-gooding.” An angry tirade about an unnamed reporter’s investigation into his Ebola efforts seems vaguely self-indulgent and extraneous. A random anecdote about a high-school friend who later died of AIDS comes out of (and goes) nowhere, consequently less moving than maudlin.
Throughout the play, Gunderson writes the character a lot of sweet and thoughtful things to say about their endearing relationship and enduring marriage, the birth of their children, and so forth. “She’s writing this because she knows that I can’t,” he confesses at one point. “The Catastrophist” is quite a love letter to him, really —probably much more meaningful to the two of them, on a personal level, than it is to the rest of us, in theatrical terms.
Streaming on-demand through March 21. Ticket links range from $23.20 (for individual access) to $34.80 (for group access), and $11.60 (for students). 678-528-1500. theatricaloutfit.org.
Bottom line: Not as topical or timely as you might expect.