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A CurtainUp Review
Hurricane Diane

I don't know, say what you will about that Diane, you have to admit she's got a charisma. — Pam —
Becca Blackwell and Michelle Beck star in Hurricane Diane. (photo: Joan Marcus)
While the theater continues to try on new shapes, it also continues to cling to an old one. Madeleine George's Hurricane Diane, which nods to Euripides' drama The Bacchae, is focused on the very contemporary problem of climate change. Directed by Leigh Silverman, and now running at New York Theatre Workshop,co-produced by WP Theater, it will interest anybody who's striving to live green in a material world.

In a prologue, a character dressed in the robes of an ancient deity stands at center stage, and introduces herself: "Recognize me? No? God of agriculture, wine and song? It's cool, it's been a while. I am called by many names—Bacchus, Bromius, Dionysus." At the end of her speech, her "god-outfit" drops to reveal her gardening clothes beneath which includes a plaid shirt, long shorts, and boots. There's no mistaking the god-to-mortal transformation: She's a virtual "butch charm factory."

As the mysterious character vanishes off-stage, the lights go up on Carol Fleischer (Mia Barron) in her smart modern kitchen with its granite countertops, rectangular island, and four high-end stools (set design by Rachel Hauck). She is a pharmaceutical executive living in a cozy home on a Red Bank, New Jersey cul-de-sac. In the following scenes, we will become acquainted with her and her three neighbors: Renee Shapiro-Epps (Michelle Beck), Pam Annunziata (Danielle Skraastad), and Beth Wann (Kate Wetherhead). They are all friends who have weathered crises together. They also have identical kitchens, enjoy the same "creature comforts" and have similar concerns about their micro-and macro-worlds.

The big news on their cul-de-sac today? A permaculture gardener named Diane (Becca Blackwell) has materialized in their neighborhood with a plan to landscape all their property into an eco-friendly unit, which will be the template for a more "green" world.

Far-fetched as this at first sounds to them, they find Diane to be like a force of nature. And when it comes to the particulars of climate change, she's a wizard.

But is Diane a savior for the planet, or a charlatan? The only thing that the weomen can agree on, in fact, is that Diane is charming and has weirdly arrived just as a coastal storm is heading for Monmouth County.

While Hurricane Diane starts out as a sit-com it shifts gears midway through into a tragedy. In keeping with Greek drama, it is concerned with the big question of how a person shouldexist in relation to society and fate?

Although the characters who populate the play are comedic archetypes, they still are people we can easily recognize, understand, and even identify with at times. There's Carol who's risk-averse and one-hundred-percent typical of a white suburban housewife; Renee who's a respected editor at Home and Garden TV magazine; Beth who's shy and depressed over her husband leaving her; Pam who's a tough cookie but pure of heart. And, of course, Diane, who's the "masculine-of-center" woman who lends gravitas to the play and is the catalyst for nearly all of the action.

Although I appreciated the play's merits, and found the production values and acting uniformly excellent, I feel that the plot got a little thin toward the closing scenes. The story line progressed seamlessly as Diane one by one "seduced" Beth, Renee, and Pam. But the Carol, who's a Doubting Thomas throughout, somehow seems to undergo a change of heart for no detectable reason at the denouement. Instead of being seduced by Diane, she seems to have been given a novocaine that suspends her judgment and puts her under Diane's power. Perhaps I'm nit-picking, but Carol's sudden conversion to being a Dionysian acolyte seemed more contrived than organic to the text.

Just as The Bacchae dramatizes the conflict between asceticism and Dionysiac ecstasy, with Euripides being referee, George's Hurricane Diane permits us to witness a similar dynamic on stage. The four suburban housewives here are living inside the box lives and find it almost impossible to think or venture outside the box. In short, fear keeps them from experiencing freedom, and they continually second-guess Diane's plan for a sustaining green landscape in their backyards and beyond.

If there is any message that comes across it is the value of a person finding a "happy medium" between the extremes of self-abnegation and self-indulgence. It may be a cliche, but it has an old truth tucked within it.

Hurricane Diane debuted at Two River Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey two years ago. That was on the cusp of Trump's inauguration. Though his administration tends to pooh-pooh climate change as a fantasy (or gross exaggeration), this tragicomedy reminds us that "despoiling the green earth" does takes its toll on the planet.

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Hurricane Diane by Madeleine George
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Cast: Mia Barron (Carol Fleischer), Michelle Beck (Renee Shapiro-Epps), Becca Blackwell (Diane), Danielle Skraastad (Pam Annunziata), Kate Wetherhead (Beth Wann).
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
Choreography by Raja Feather Kelly
Stage Manager: Melanie J. Lisby
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
York Theatre Workshop 79 E. 4th Street
From 2/06/19; opening 2/24/19; closing 3/24/19
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan at 2/27/29 press performance

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