By Donna Herman
Hurricane Diane has landed in town with a bang, and I’d advise you NOT to evacuate, but to go get wet and windblown! She’s landed at the New York Theatre Workshop in Madeleine George’s bitingly funny play about the pissed-off god Dionysus who is living as a permaculture gardener in Vermont named Diane (Becca Blackwell).
Faced with the prospect of spending eternity on Mount Olympus with nobody to worship her, Diane has decided to take matters into her own hands and save the earth at the eleventh hour. She naturally chooses a cul-de-sac in Red Bank, NJ to begin her plan of re-initiating humans into the practice of revering both her and nature. She needs four women to form a good cult and the four women who live here are all friends who consult each other about everything, have identical floorplans and all have gardens. Diane figures this will be an easy start to her plan to reverse the seeds of ruin.
But Diane has been rusticating in Vermont for too long in a consensus-based lesbian commune with curbside composting. And she has not been dealing with the housewives of New Jersey. Although Beth (Kate Wetherhead), abandoned by her husband with a yard that has been described as a “hayfield” may be a sure thing, Diane finds her seduction techniques may have become a little rusty over the millennia.
The pull and tug between the mortal women whose core beliefs about themselves are being challenged by the determined deity make for a hell of a bumpy ride. But with George’s crisp, bulls-eyed dialog, director Leigh Silverman’s faultless pacing, and the spectacular comic timing of the uber talented cast, all the audience has to do is sit back and enjoy themselves.
Each new scene and character makes us salivate for the next, and we aren’t disappointed. The second scene in Hurricane Diane when Diane meets the first housewife, Carol (Mia Barron) is one of the best character studies I’ve ever witnessed. Mia Barron, if she had no other appearance in the play (which, thankfully, she does) would deserve an award for that scene alone. Barron absolutely nails the complicated and contradictory character of Carol. A rigid woman whose job is “in Compliance” at a pharmaceutical company, she’s married to a man who hasn’t managed to catch the right train home from the city at night in months. Her one passion is clipping inspirational photos for her dream garden from HGTV Magazine. The only problem is, she has a brown thumb and doesn’t really like to go outdoors. She is hilariously funny, completely invested, absolutely recognizable and totally sympathetic. Brava.
However, don’t think that Hurricane Diane is all style and no substance. Yes, it’s exceedingly funny and acerbic, but there’s meat in that matter and a sting in those barbs because the subject matter is very real – what human beings are doing to destroy the planet. And don’t think that George is a rabid one-sided campaigner against humanity. She has enormous insight and sympathy for her human characters, even while recognizing their flaws.
I must admit the resolution to Hurricane Diane surprised me. For which I am always grateful. The play is having a very limited run – through March 10th only. I suggest you book your tickets immediately.
Hurricane Diane by Madeleine George, Directed by Leigh Silverman
WITH: Mia Barron (Carol); Michelle Beck (Renee); Becca Blackwell (Diane); Danielle Skraastad (Pam); Kate Wetherhead (Beth)
Scenic Design by Rachel Hauck; Costume Design by Kaye Voyce; Lighting Design by Barbara Samuels; Sound Design by Bray Poor; Original Music by The Bengsons; Music Direction by Ellen L. Winter; Choreography by Raja Feather Kelly; Stage Manager, Melanie J. Lisby; Assistant Stage Manager, Anne McPherson. Co-presented by New York Theatre Workshop and Two River Theater. Performed at New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, NYC. For tickets visit: https://www.nytw.org/show/hurricane-diane/tickets/