Does staying home during the pandemic truly mean that everyone is staying safe? For domestic violence victims, home can be a dangerous place. Victims are now experiencing isolation in toxic environments without proper resources or access to family and friends. These individuals are usually girls, women and members of the LGBTQ community.
During the uncertainty of COVID-19, the Greenhouse Theatre Project brought a one-woman show to production over Zoom in hopes of reflecting on everyday life during the pandemic. NATURAL SHOCKS, written by Lauren Gunderson and starring Elizabeth Braaten Palmieri, introduces the world to Angela.
Angela is a married, middle-aged white woman working as a home insurance agent in the Midwest and living in a typical suburban neighborhood. The opening scene is established in her basement. Angela turns on her laptop camera as she takes cover while waiting for a tornado to pass. During her 50-minute monologue, Angela describes in-depth the traumatic experiences she has endured and eventually reveals the real reason she has taken shelter: to escape abuse from her enraged husband.
Serving as the star and co-director, Palmieri studied the play in-depth and explains that the overall message of this play touches on the important issue of domestic abuse. Angela’s trauma may be similar to real-life victims, even when their pain is not obvious to others.
“It is a comedy until it is not,” Palmieri says. “She is the warning sign that no one saw coming.”
Since the pandemic has caused individuals to stay in their homes, abuse may not be as noticeable and may go unreported. Gunderson used ticket sales as an opportunity to raise money for organizations helping sexual assault victims when she debuted her play in November of 2018.
Palmieri says the play fell into her hands at the right time.
The Greenhouse Theatre Project also took advantage of ticket sales to raise money, but their earnings were given to local organizations in Columbia, such as Race Matters, Friends.
“In our country right now, we are feeling these natural shocks of the pandemic, protests, police brutality,” Palmieri says. “There needs to be a change and you can feel the urgency as a country just as you can in Angela's voice.”
Putting the urgency and seriousness into Angela’s character did not happen overnight.
Palmieri and her co-director Claire Syler, an assistant professor of theatre at MU, spent hours working on the production despite it not being performed on stage.
“We worked on it for about three weeks together and kept asking the question, why this play now? ” Syler says. “It is fitting because, similar to us, Angela is trapped in a home, but the abuse message really resonates with the audience in a profound way.”
Although uncertainty was a lingering theme through rehearsal leading up to opening night, the piece was performed over Zoom in front of people all over the country. Not only was the piece viewed globally, but lingered in the minds of the audience after the performance.
In a post-pandemic world, when people can actually gather in a theatre, the play may once again be performed on stage. Or maybe not.
“It was really interesting to see how it translated to Zoom,” Syler said. “I think turned out to be such a well-suited piece for Zoom and I am not sure if it would be the same performed live.”