The Review: Madeleine George’s Hurricane Diane
Written with whip smart side angles by Madeleine George (Precious Little, The Zero Hour), Hurricane Diane strives forward into the troubled and challenging world of contemporary, suburban New Jersey. It’s a part of the landscape that is in desperate need a new Johnny Appleseed to bring forth a rebirth of an “American Dionysus”. Our world, we are told, is on the brink of disaster and the doomsday clock is ticking towards destruction, and the humans in power aren’t doing their job. The warning arrives within the electric charm and energy of its star, Becca Blackwell (“High Maintenance“). They (the pronoun of choice) are the one and only, God Dionysus arriving in all their glory. It’s a powerfully hilarious performance, filling the air with a cosmic energy of a demigod in work boots, saddled with a raw charisma that is undeniable and unshakable. Dionysus has decided to return, not riding into town “on a leopard, or a bull, or a leopard/bull hybrid if they had one handy” but in the form of a butch gardener named Diane, fresh from years living “off the grid with a bunch of lesbian separatists in a consensus-based community” outside of Burlington, Vermont. Leaving that “fucking paradise” determined to reconnect the earth and soil with what has been dissected and cut off by curbs and cul-de-sacs, Diane has decided to amass a following, in an effort for salvation, but four disciples are needed to formulate this plan, and there, she spots, living a life of privilege and non-purpose, are four housewives in four duplicate houses on a New Jersey cul-de-sac oblivious about the winds that are about to blow through their manicured lives and lawns.
It’s brilliantly funny, this epic global warning of a play of such eco-expanisve thinking, that as directed with a sharp sense of deconstructed realism by Leigh Silverman (Broadway’s The Lifespan of a Fact), we fully embrace the returning God of wine and song. Diane brings this highly fearless creation of a warning, planting it strongly in the tragic soil of humanity and hilarity. Blackwell is such a magnetic force of organic nature, that from the moment Diane steps foot center stage informing us all that a storm is coming, we cheer the God onwards. The first target is Carol Fleischer, played to tight perfection by Mia Barron (LC’s The Wolves), but the demigod wasn’t prepared for the modern age of those what want what they want. Diane expected easy prey, but got demanding obstinate privilege instead.
Diane wants them to become the wild passionate animals like they did back in Diane’s heyday, but it becomes clear that Diane might have to start a bit lower on the vulnerable food chain, changing course and focusing on Beth Wann, meek in persona, yet strongly portrayed by Kate Wetherhead (Off-Broadway’s The Other Josh Cohen), followed by the earth breathing editor, Renee Shapiro-Epps, deliciously portrayed by Michelle Beck (Broadway’s A Raisin in the Sun). Easy picking, saving them from the flame of eternal boredom. Two down, and now Diane must tackle the powerhouse Italian, Pam Annunziata, majestically played by the brilliant Danielle Skraastad (PH’s The Pain and the Itch), the friggin’ hero of the storm. Pam is the firecracker in colorful leopard print, costumed beautifully by Kaye Voyce (NYTW’s All the Wrong Reasons), delivering a magnificent manifesto on daily sexual activity with her husband, mainly so she never will see him as “the guy whose string-cheese wrappers I pull from between the couch cushions“. Pam is always prepared, an unabashed dynamo, but not ready for Hurricane Diane. It’s the scene of the play, special and not at all typical.
Diane needs their adoration and their submission to wage this war, but each require a presentation and a proposal that suits their situation, especially touching and heartbreaking is Wetherhead’s seduction and confessional about her wedding night. Terribly sad, and extremely funny/touching. The army of eco-supporters required almost comes to pass, but on the beautifully fractured set by scenic designer Rachel Hauck (NYTW’s What the Constitution…), torn apart by the wind and rain of Hurricane Diane, with lightning bright, dynamic lighting by Barbara Samuels (Ars Nova’s Rags Parkland Sings…), and furiously thunderous sound design of Bray Poor (Broadway’s True West), Diane gets ambushed. The song and dance of Dionysus, played out wonderful to the original music by the always wonderful The Bengsons (NYTW’s Hundred Days), with music direction by Ellen L. Winter (Salty Brine’s Living Record Collection) and silly fun choreography by Raja Feather Kelly (NYTW’s The House…), rocks the cul-de-sac, but one obstacle remains in the way of a greener tomorrow, a brown thumbed suburbanite that wants her cast iron bench above all else, and to hell with all that talk of pawpaws, milk vetch, and global warming.
Earth’s salvation might just have to wait, even with the keenly observed annihilation close at hand. The comedic tragedy of Hurricane Diane triumphs in the brutally honest war against suburban safety and creature comforts of the manicured. The utterly fantastically fun Hurricane rips up the indigenous ground cover and companion planting, and gives us instead a paradise of humorously organic authenticity and smart sharp-tongued language to chew upon and embrace. It seems, with other NYTW shows like the timely What The Constitution Means To Me (opening soon on Broadway) and the wildly twisted The Slave Play, the New York Theatre Workshop is having an overabundance of seductive growth this season. And I hope those winds keep blowing in strong and true. It is a well deserved celebration.