“The Catastrophist”: A Theatre Talkback

By :  The Jewish Theological Seminary Posted On Jul 15, 2021


Presented by the Hendel Center for Ethics and Justice at JTS in Partnership with Marin Theatre Company and Round House Theatre

Watch the recording of our conversation with the team behind the acclaimed virtual drama “The Catastrophist.” It’s the story of real-life virus hunter Nathan Wolfe—who just happens to be the playwright’s husband—and a stirring meditation on scientific discovery, Judaism, family, life, and loss. 

We welcomed playwright Lauren Gunderson, virologist Nathan Wolfe, actor William DeMeritt, director Jasson Minadakis, and JTS rabbinical student and theatre maker Kendell Pinkney for an expansive discussion about this new work and its surprising intersections with issues of justice and racial equity.

Read an interview with the star of the play, William DeMeritt, who describes how The Catastrophist allowed him to be bring his Black and Jewish identity to the role.


Ammud: Jews of Color Torah Academy
Be’chol Lashon
Edlavitch DCJCC
Marlene Myerson JCC Manhattan
Miles Nadal JCC, Downtown Toronto

New Jewish Culture Fellowship
No Silence on Race
JCC East Bay
14th Street Y


Lauren Gunderson has been one of the most produced playwrights in America since 2015 topping the list twice including 2019-20. She is 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. She studied Southern Literature and Drama at Emory University, and Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School where she was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. Her newest play, The Catastrophist, about her husband virologist Nathan Wolfe, premiered digitally in January 2021. She co-authored the Miss Bennet plays with Margot Melcon, and her audioplay The Half-Life of Marie Curie is available on Audible.com. Her work is published at Playscripts (I and YouExit Pursued By A BearThe Taming, and Toil And Trouble), Dramatists Play Service (The RevolutionistsThe Book of WillSilent SkyBauerNatural ShocksThe Wickhams and Miss Bennet) and Samuel French (Emilie). Her picture book Dr Wonderful: Blast Off to the Moon is available from Two Lions/Amazon. She is currently developing musicals with Ari Afsar, Dave Stewart. and Joss Stone, and Kait Kerrigan and Bree Lowdermilk. LaurenGunderson.com

Dr. Nathan Wolfe is a virologist and entrepreneur. Until 2008 he was a professor in Epidemiology at UCLA, after which he founded Metabiota, a data analytics company focused on epidemic risk. He currently serves as the Chair of Metabiota and as an advisor to multiple technology companies. Wolfe received his doctorate in Immunology & Infectious Diseases from Harvard in 1998. He has been honored with a Fulbright fellowship and the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award. He is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. Wolfe has published over 100 scientific publications (https://tinyurl.com/wolfe-pubs) and his work has been published in or covered by Nature, Science, The New York Times, The Economist, NPR, The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, Wired and Forbes among others. His critically acclaimed book, The Viral Storm, has been published in six languages and was shortlisted in 2012 for the Royal Society’s Winton Prize. In 2011 he was named as one of the hundred most influential people in the world by Time magazine; Rolling Stone named him one of the “100 Agents of Change” in 2009; and Popular Science recognized him as one of their “Brilliant 10” in 2006.

William DeMeritt is an actor, writer, dialect coach, theatrical and voiceover director, theatre educator, and award-winning audiobook narrator. Prior to his work on The Catastrophist, William has been seen at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival starring as William Shakespeare in the U.S. premiere of the stage adaptation of Shakespeare In Love as well as playing famed Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Asch in Paula Vogel’s Indecent.He has been featured in HBO’s Emmy-winning film The Normal Heart, HBOMax’s The Flight Attendant, the critically acclaimed webseries The Outs, NCIS: New OrleansPerson of Interest, and Law & Order:SVU. This winter William can be seen in Netflix’s The Noel Diary (based on the best-selling novel).

Additional theatrical productions of note: the Obie-Award winning production of The Death of The Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World at Signature Theatre, Kate Hamill’s Sense & Sensibility at Dallas Theatre Center, Twelfth Night at Yale Rep, and he is also the creator, writer, and star of the New York Innovative Theatre Award winning solo show, Origin Story.

William is also a featured narrator on the Audm app (a streaming service for narrated long-form journalism), where you can listen to articles from The New York TimesThe AtlanticNature, and other leading publications. www.williamdemeritt.com @demeritt

Jasson Minadakis is in his 15th season as artistic director of Marin Theatre Company, where he has directed The Catastrophist, Mother of the Maid, Sovereignty, Oslo, Shakespeare in Love, Thomas and Sally, Guards at the Taj, August: Osage County, The Invisible Hand, Anne Boleyn, The Convert, The Whale, Failure: A Love Story, the world premiere of Lasso of Truth, The Whipping Man (San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle Awards for Best Production and Best Acting Ensemble), Waiting for Godot, Othello: the Moor of Venice, The Glass Menagerie, Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice, the world premiere of Libby Appel’s adaptation of Chekhov’s SeagullHappy Now?, Equivocation (SFBATCC Award, Best Director), the world premiere of Sunlight, Lydia, The Seafarer, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, A Streetcar Named Desire, said Saïd, Love Song, and The Subject Tonight is Love. As artistic director of Actor’s Express Theatre Company, he directed The Pillowman; Bug; The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer; Echoes of Another Man; Killer Joe; Burn This; The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?; Blue/Orange; and Bel Canto. As producing artistic director of Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, he directed Jesus Hopped the ’A’ Train, Chagrin Falls (2002 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Best Production), and numerous others, including 19 productions of Shakespeare. Regional credits include The Whipping Man at Virginia Stage Company, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Hamlet at Georgia Shakespeare, Copenhagen at Playhouse on the Square (2003 Ostrander Theatre Award for Best Dramatic Production), and Bedroom Farce at Wayside Theatre.

Kendell Pinkney is a Brooklyn based theatre-maker, creative producer, and rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Pinkney works and creates art at the intersection of race, Jewish identity and sacred text, and has most recently been featured in the acclaimed new Israeli docuseries “The New Jew” with actor-comedian Guri Alfi, Saturday Night Seder and the “Unholier than Thou” podcast. His broader collaborative works have been presented at venues such as 54 Below, Joe’s Pub, LABA @ the 14th St. Y, and Two River Theatre, to name a few. In addition to his creative work, he is the rabbinic fellow for the Jewish arts and culture organizations Reboot and LABA, and serves on the Spiritual Direction team at Ammud: The Jews of Color Torah Academy. He is a Wexner/Davidson Fellow and a 2017 recipient of the New York Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36.