New Play About a Noted Virus Hunter Debuts Digitally From a North Bay Stage

Years before the Covid-19 pandemic, award-winning virologist Dr. Nathan Wolfe proposed a plan to protect the economy from pandemics.

Even though Wolfe earned the title of the ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’ in TIME for his work tracking Ebola and swine flu, no one took his proposal seriously. Now, a new one-man show written by Wolfe’s wife–acclaimed playwright Lauren Gunderson–tells Wolfe’s story.

This month, The Catastrophist debuts in a world premiere digital production helmed by Mill Valley-based Marin Theatre Company in collaboration with Washington, DC–based company Round House Theatre. The online production is available to stream January 26 to February 28.

“You think you know your partner of a decade. And then you attempt to write a play about them,” Gunderson says in a statement. “When (Marin Theatre Company Artistic Director) Jasson Minadakis posed the idea of writing a new play about my husband, I initially rejected it. But the idea started to make more and more sense.”

Gunderson is currently one of America’s most prolific and most produced playwrights. She has worked with Marin Theatre Company since the world premiere of her award-winning play I And You in 2013 and a tenure as MTC’s playwright-in-residence that began in 2016.

“When the reality sunk in that we would not be in theaters in 2020, Lauren and I began discussing projects that could live between the worlds of theatre and film in a virtual space, and ‘The Catastrophist’ went straight into development as a new commission,” Minadakis says in a statement. “‘The Catastrophist’ is like nothing Lauren has attempted before. I’m delighted to be partnering with Ryan and Round House on this unique experience and look forward to the conversations it sparks across our country.”

Akin to Marin Theatre Company, Round House Theatre is one of the leading professional theater companies in the Washington, DC area; producing new plays, modern classics, and musicals each year.

“There really couldn’t be a more timely production in content or presentation,” Round House Artistic Director Ryan Rilette says in a statement. “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. I had read Dr. Wolfe’s book, ‘The Viral Storm,’ years ago when I was still Producing Director at Marin, and I immediately wanted to see a stage adaptation. I was thrilled when Jasson reached out to say that he and Lauren were finally going to make that happen, and I’m thrilled to work with them to share that story with audiences in the DC metropolitan area, the Bay Area, and everywhere in between.”

Filmed on stage in MTC’s Boyer Theatre, The Catastrophist is directed by Minadakis and stars William DeMeritt (Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole World, HBO’s The Normal Heart) as Wolfe. The digital production’s creative team also includes producer Nakissa Etemad, dramaturg Martine Kei Green-Rogers, costume designer Sarah Smith, lighting designer Wen-Ling Liao, composer and sound designer Chris Houston, director of photography Peter Ruocco, assistant director Christina Hogan and Covid compliance officer Liz Mastos.

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

‘The Catastrophist’ premieres online January 26 and is available for streaming through February 28. $30. Marintheatre.org.

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Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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