Hurricane Diane Wins The Crowd Over

The eccentric new play HurricaneDiane opened Jan. 27 at Two River Theater and I had the pleasure of seeing it performed for the first time. Theater is an immersive experience that awakens an audience and asks them to trust where the director, actors, scenes, and story line take them. This play makes you think past the existential experiences that shape human behavior in the funniest possible way, of course.

Playwright Madeleine George weaves together a satirical, yet enlightening play about the discord between humans and planet Earth. The show draws inspiration from The Bacchae, which is the Greek story of how Dionysus seeks revenge on those that openly defied her power as a god. Diane (Becca Blackwell) is the contemporary version of Dionysus who seeks to bring carnage while she poses as a gardener with experience in permaculture. Diane coaxed her way into the lives of four women living in a quiet cul-de-sac in Red Bank, which makes this play endearingly familiar. The setting is not a complete replica of Red Bank, but the sights and smells of Delfini’s, a restaurant in the area can be envisioned in this play and that is a reminder of the Monmouth County community.

The four women who form this quatrain of something resembling Desperate Housewives is entertaining because they are all best friends that nag each other, yet love each other. They gossip regularly and drink coffee or wine together in their kitchens. Throughout the play this demonstrates how close knit they are as they interact with Diane. Sandy (Mia Barron) is an HGTV enthusiast who is immediately skeptical of Diane’s motives. Meanwhile others like Renee (Nikiya Mathis) and Beth (Kate Wetherhead) are attracted to Diane and see her as this inspiration for creativity. Pam (Danielle Skraastad) is the feisty, Italian-American that does not trust Diane whatsoever, but the string of clichés is what makes her character one of the stand-outs. From her many Italian hand gestures whenever she talks to the offense she takes when Diane admitted that she has never been to Delfini’s. The dialogue is captured intuitively by the actors that play the four women whom Diane ends up recruiting as her followers to take revenge on the way humans are destroying nature. There is a natural banter between the cast and the comedic timing or innuendos synchronizes with the affability of Diane’s personality since she is the source of all this ensuing chaos.

Audience member Michael Bulger, who works for a theater company in New York, said,

“I think it was a poignant story told through a sly, satirical lens that lets you into a story in the way you don’t expect. The characters are flawed and relatable. Heightened versions of themselves, but also extremely human. Though the story is set up to mirror a particular theme, as the stakes were raised you could gauge many other themes as well.”

Case in point, it was interesting that the play alluded to themes about climate change, the human capacity to exist in our own bubbles, selfish pursuits of vanity, and also broaching the subject of Hurricane Sandy. The destruction that hurricane caused, but also the humanity that brought many people in communities in New Jersey together. Playwright Madeleine George and Artistic Director John Dias combined their love for theater with the rambunctious style of Greek, satirical storytelling and soliloquies that those Greek plays were known for. Another audience member and resident of Monmouth County, Jane Goodman said, “I thought the play was beautifully written. It seems to get at the essence of the characters. It was extremely thought provoking.”

Hurricane Diane was written by Madeleine George and directed by Leigh Silverman. Performances will continue at Two River Theater, Red Bank from now until Feb. 12, 2017.

Box office hours: Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and starting one hour prior to all performances.

IMAGE TAKEN from theatermania.com