By: Isa Goldberg
March 9, 2019: A fun little romp about the apocalypse, Hurricane Diane, at the New York Theater Workshop, delivers a necessary moral about the way we keep our bodies, our homes, and our planet. As is her wont, Pulitzer nominated Madeleine George’s new play weds disparate elements. Here, the god Dionysus, described “as a masculine person who does not identify as male,” is played by the trans actor, Becca Blackwell.
Costumed in cargo shorts and a classic Greek-style tunic, Blackwell blends silliness and swagger for butch charm. Returning after centuries, the world-weary Dionysus observes, “You started to settle for ecstasy knock-offs: Creature comforts. Customer satisfaction. And at a certain point, I just stopped putting myself out there.”
In order to blend into suburban New Jersey, where the play is set, the demi god poses as a gardener, selling their services to the residents of a Stepford Wives kind of community. On a mission to heal the planet, Diane moves in on “the fertile zones.” But conflict arises when the demi-god’s expectation that they will be received by these women, with “an ancient cry rising from their throats,” falls short at the garden bed. So much for metaphor.
The women she needs to convince are quite the klatch, gathering in any one of their four identical kitchens daily, drinking wine, chatting, and groping for mutual support.
Most outstanding, Danielle Skraastad plays Pam Annunziata, like a real housewife of New Jersey, in faux animal print polyester dresses (by Kaye Voyce). Her god is Delfini’s, the Italian deli in town, with the mural of an Italian garden, “hanging vines, the roses, the fountain, the whole nine” that she hopes Diane will bring to life in her backyard. Hysterical!
Skrasstad’s take on this Kardashian-like character is joyfully ludicrous. Serving up priceless lessons on disaster planning, Pam boasts a police scanner atop her wet bar, and a real panic button in case of nuclear attack. Paraphernalia she’s gathered as a result of life-threatening storms that are hitting the community.
She’s joined by urban cool, uber hipster Renee, a magazine editor, who aims to raise chickens in her yard, played by Michelle Beck, in flowing Eileen Fischer cashmere. In contrast, Carol (Mia Barron) her neighbor is a “one hundred percent typical” suburban lady. So typical, we’re led to believe that it’s people like her who are actually causing the storms destroying the planetary balance.
To that end, we learn that Carol works in Compliance for a pharmaceutical company whose products led to the birth of babies without hearts.
Meanwhile Beth (Kate Wetherhead), a denuded divorcee becomes the talk of the town when the other ladies observe that “Diane might have tossed a little more than Beth’s topsoil.”
It’s an adorable dark comedy with characterizations that bring to life stereotypes of American women, and what we prize. Nature isn’t for everyone. At this rate, sex won’t be either.
George’s dialogue, with its sharp-tongued satire, tingles with wit and cultural sensitivity. It’s winsome material for Blackwell, whose Dionysus is also the play’s narrator. Helmer Leigh Silverman slays it!
Hurricane Diane ****
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth Street, NYC
Through March 24, 2019
Photography: Joan Marcus