The new season at Black Box Theatre in downtown Moline starts Thursday night, Feb. 2, with a venue favorite, the popular playwright Lauren Gunderson and her roughly one-hour “Natural Shocks.”

In the typically one-woman show, Angela is trapped in her basement, waiting out an approaching tornado. Though a self-proclaimed unreliable narrator, she begins to reflect on a lifetime of trauma, illuminating the truth behind her endangerment. Based on Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, the 2018 “Natural Shocks” is “a damning condemnation of violence, abuse, and firearms in America,” according to a synopsis.

The new production, directed by Augustana College junior Roger Pavey, Jr., stars four women (not just one), all playing Angela — Lora Adams, Kira Rangel, Trish Foster and Noel Jean Huntley. “Natural Shocks” is subtitled “A One Woman Play in a Tornado.”

The women who rotate playing Angela are (clockwise from lower left) Kira Rangel, Lora Adams, Trish Foster and Noel Huntley.

Given the state of the world, and the population the issues in this play affect, “we thought it was important to broaden the scope of the story, and highlight that this story is not just one woman’s experience, but that of many women of multiple backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, walks of life, abilities, sexualities, religions, and more,” Pavey wrote in his director’s note.

“While we are not representing even close to all identities of women this story’s issues affect and attack, and while this play will not solve the issue at hand, and while I have led the creation of this piece from a place of privilege, I am proud of the story we are telling and our efforts to represent those who are affected – and to remind you of the relevancy and tragedy America continues to face,” he wrote.

Adams (Black Box co-founder, co-owner and frequent director) originally planned to direct “Natural Shocks,” and Pavey suggested making this his directing debut.

“The splitting of it makes sense to me,” she said this week of having four women share the role. “We had auditions and the bottom line was, we didn’t have the women, and he asked, ‘Would you do one of the women?’”

“It’s written as a tour de force, one go,” Pavey said of the 65-minute, intermission-less play. “With all the stuff going on in the world today, making it more than one woman’s story makes sense for this script.”

All the four actresses have similar mannerisms, but put their own theatrical spin on the role, the director said.

Noel Jean Huntley is a 2022 Augustana graduate.

Pavey didn’t want the four actresses all to be young; in the story, Angela is married, but her age isn’t specified.

“It would be awesome to see any of these actresses do it themselves, but the script is already weird, and I’m a weird theater major,” he said. “I think it’s cool; it gets more trippy as it goes. You’re getting deeper into the storm.”

Adams said this issue doesn’t affect just one type of woman.

“The idea is to represent as many women as we can,” she said. “I think it’s wrong to say only this kind of woman has this kind of experience. What we try to say is, this is really universal and that’s a reason for the splitting of it.”

Fourth Gunderson play here

This is the fourth Lauren Gunderson play the BBT has presented since 2019 – it’s done “Silent Sky,” “I and You” and “The Revolutionists.” Richmond Hill in Geneseo also staged “Silent Sky” in 2022.

Lauren Gunderson has been the most produced playwright in America.

“I just think she’s a smart writer,” Adams said this week. “In the end, it always comes down to the writing. You can’t act yourself out of bad writing…She’s very, very good writer.”

She admires the surprises that Gunderson embeds in her stories. “Those kind of turn on your head moments are actually based on what has preceded it,” Adams said.

The 40-year-old Gunderson has been one of the most produced playwrights in America since 2015. She’s a two-time winner of the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for I and You and The Book of Will, the winner of the Lanford Wilson Award and the Otis Guernsey New Voices Award, a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and John Gassner Award for Playwriting, and a recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s Residency with Marin Theatre Company.

“It’s not just gun violence – it’s violence and how we react to it,” Rangel said of “Natural Shocks.” “That’s what I take from this show. The playwright does a good job of not putting too much responsibility on Angela; it’s the audience’s responsibility.”

“There’s no catharsis, it’s just pain,” Huntley said of the play’s thunderous conclusion. “There’s no answer.” She emphasized also there’s a lot of humor in it.

“I’d say the first 20 pages are mostly funny,” Pavey said. He is also lighting designer (as he did for BBT’s “Ride the Cyclone,” “All Is Calm” and “My Brother’s Gift”), with Celeaciya Olvera as stage manager & assistant lighting designer; Adams doing set and costume design: her husband Michael Kopriva as set builder, and Ryan J. Hurdle doing sound design.

Hurdle noted a good way to empathize with a character is to laugh with them before you start crying with them. He created tornado sounds for the show, coming full force at the end.

“The tragedy comes second to the facts of the show,” Pavey said, noting the gun violence statistics in the play are sobering and thought-provoking.

Lora Adams is co-founder and co-owner of Black Box Theatre (1623 5th Ave., Moline) with David Miller.

Adams said she wouldn’t have picked it if she didn’t think the message was important.

“I have my own feelings about any sort of abusive relationship or guns, but that cannot play into what she’s written,” she said. “You don’t want to be preaching to people. You want it to be open enough that they will listen to you. And I think that’s what she does very well in her writing.”

The first time Adams saw “Natural Shocks” was online during COVID quarantine, with a woman who filmed it in her basement. The play is set in a basement.

“Sometimes, you have to take a chance and not do what everyone else is doing,” she said of the BBT’s penchant for alternative programming.

“We all have different cadences to our voice,” Adams said of the women actors. “If we all were just bots of each other, we would not get the conceit of this is not just one woman, this is many women…This Angela is every woman.”

The play message

She’s basically saying, ‘I don’t deserve to be treated this way’,” Adams said of domestic violence. “Guns are part of the whole thing, but not the only thing. It’s about being respected within a relationship, making those decisions to get out. and that’s one of the hardest things for women in that situation. They can’t get out — they don’t have money, they have kids, whatever. She touches on all those sorts of things.”

Angela throughout alludes to certain things, but in Huntley’s portrayal, she’s the first one who says, “You hurt me,” Adams said. “That is something that women have a hard time saying, and certainly to other people, to tell someone, ‘He hurts me’.”

Trish Foster moved with her family to the QC 18 months ago from Ontario, Canada.

“What’s smart about this show is, the character feels guilty about it,” Pavey said. “What the show does is, like the audience is able to forgive her — she’s not at fault for not saying anything. There’s so much depth to her character.”

The audience is complicit, in letting this tragedy unfold, he said, noting the public needs to do something about the issue. The theater’s fourth wall gets broken in the show, where Angela talks to the audience.

The Black Box experience

Besides Adams, Huntley is the only one who’s previously performed at the three-row, 60-seat Black Box, in the musical “Company,” in October 2021. Foster moved to the QC a year and a half ago from Ontario, Canada, and his is her first acting in 25 years.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are and what your experience is; you can get back in it. I’ll show you,” Foster said. “It’s been a great experience. Everyone’s been so open and welcoming.”

“I really love the space. I like the smaller, intimate environment,” Huntley said.

Pavey is having a great time working with his friends from Augustana (Huntley and Hurdle are 2022 grads, and Olvera is a junior) and considers Adams a mentor.

“It’s cool to do another aspect of theater in this space,” Pavey said. “I also think it’s cool that it’s a studio space, but we treat it like a big production. We fully realize the set, we fully realize the lighting. It’s a unique space in the area.”

Adams in the basement set of “Natural Shocks.”

“It’s surprisingly versatile,” Adams said, noting it will host the big musical “Hello, Dolly” later this year. Other small BBT shows include the one-woman “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” in early 2019.

Many people have been personally moved by Black Box shows like “My Brother’s Gift” and “All Is Calm,” she said. “Because it’s so intimate, there’s an opportunity for people to really get emotionally attached to what they’re seeing on stage.”

Socially conscious theater

Going from Augustana’s “Cabaret” this past fall (where he played the Emcee on selected dates), Pavey said he has a new appreciation for socially conscious theater.

Gunderson asks the audience if issues raised in the play matter to them, Adams said. “Are you going to be an advocate or someone who stands by? It doesn’t preach,” she said.

Rangel was excited to do a BBT show since she saw “Ride the Cyclone,” her first, last August.

“This is the type of theater I like doing. I hadn’t done a straight play since school,” she said. “This is a muscle I need to pull and stretch. For me, this piece is very cathartic. I like what it says a lot. My portion resonates with me very deeply.”

Kira Rangel appears in her first Black Box show in “Natural Shocks,” running Feb. 2-11, 2023.

“The writing, it’s so hard not to empathize and become part of it,” Rangel said. “I love it.”

“I believe that the people who walk in this door to audition are meant to be here,” Adams said. “Then magic happens.”

BBT (1623 5th Ave., Moline) fills a needed niche in the area similar to the former QC Theatre Workshop in Davenport, which specialized in intimate, small-cast, contemporary shows in Davenport, but didn’t survive COVID.

“The bottom line is, we aren’t in competition; we have our own niche,” Adams said. “We’re happy here. Probably the most traditional show we’ll ever do is ‘Hello, Dolly,” but part of me wants to do that, to prove it can be done in this space.”

She also is thrilled to get people new to the Black Box stage there to perform. “That’s why his place exists,” Adams said. “I have no desire for you to see the same people in whatever roles. I want you to see new people and this needs to be a creative place.”

“I like to give people stipends. Their time is worth something,” she said. “A lot of times I do stuff myself because I don’t have to pay myself. It’s that simple.”

Giving students an opportunity

It’s important to give local college students like Pavey the chance to direct.

Adams also asked a then-Augie junior, Jacqueline Isaacson, to be the first student director at BBT, in August 2021, for “Murder in Green Meadows.”

Jacqueline Isaacson with Adams on the BBT set of “Murder in Green Meadows” in August 2021 (Jonathan Turner,

“School theater and theater theater are just different,” Adams said. “It doesn’t mean school theater isn’t worthwhile; it’s great.” Community theater opens up new places to play, responsibility for budgets, and casting a greater diversity of actors.

“For me, those young people in order to move forward, need to have different experiences,” she said. “It’s not just about making a better resume. The fact that will have more than schools on their resumes, it helps. Whatever I can do to help them along the way, I’m gonna do it.

“Frankly, I wish people would have done it for me when I was a kid,” Adams said. “My whole thing is, go. I think that’s what I’m supposed to do. I never had kids, so they’re my kids.”

There’s a reason it’s called “show business,” and people have to learn the business side, she added.

The BBT production of “Murder in Green Meadows” featured Jim Driscoll, left, Jenny Winn, Jonathan Grafft, and Lora Adams.

Compared to doing it at Augie, it’s better to work with a wider variety of cast members, to increase diversity of ages and get different perspectives, Pavey said. “It’s just a different experience,” he said.

“I love watching their creativity,” Adams said. “Turning it over to someone else, and knowing it’s in good hands, there’s nothing better than that.”

The BBT seventh season will continue with “The Arsonists,” “Hello, Dolly,” “New Black Box play is a force of nature,” “Rock of Ages,” “Suddenly Last Summer” and “Thrill Me.” For tickets and more information, visit the BBT website HERE.