Currently at the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio 3 is "Natural History" by Jennifer Camp. This three person piece is made up of four stories which all take place at the New York Museum of Natural History. The play revolves around four rooms, The Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, where Ben and Lilian ultimately "find" one another; Birds of the World, where the story of Phillip, Claire and their son Buddy unfolds; Ocean Life an extended monologue wherein James laments his lost love; and The Big Ban, where Barbara, Spencer and Richard collide in a love triangle .
The first piece (The Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda) consists of a good deal of narration and inner monologue (or subtext as in "Morning Becomes Elektra") wherein Lillian and Ben sit and speak to themselves or to the audience and only occasionally to each other. Although the theatrical devices used are short, they still tend to slow the action down, for these two characters don't actually meet until the end of the piece. Hence the play feels disjointed and disconnected and never seems to take wing. By contrast, the last piece, The Big Bang is visceral and exciting. Starting off with a punch in the nose and ending with a satisfying love resolution it zips along like a little Italian sports car giving us a delightful ride. The middle two pieces Birds of the World and Ocean Life are both poignant and painful.
The stage is set up arena style and the set by Glen Sears is quite lovely, giving us the sense that we the audience are in the museum too - as the walls behind our chairs are illuminated with different exhibits. The actors do a great job of constantly shifting their focus around the room to accommodate the audience which surrounds them on a single row of chairs. Russ Widdall in his three different roles (Ben/Phillip/Richard) is quite spectacular, as is Evan Jonigkeit (Buddy/James/Spencer) who has to span some big age differences. Although she has a serene presence and does an admirable job (especially with the character of Lillian furnishing her with a bang up English accent), Wendy Sharfman seems to be miscast in this particular piece. Director Thom Sesma keeps the pieces fluid and he is aided and abetted by the sound designer John Mock who imbues the evening with a strange floating feeling. The interesting thing I was left with - is that it gave me the irresistible urge to want to revisit the Museum of Natural History in the very near future.