David Roberts, Chief New York Critic, Outer Critics Circle/Drama Desk Member
Playwright Madeleine George sets her “Hurricane Diane” in an Early Anthropocene Time, the era defined as “the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.” Most, except members of the current Administration, see that influence to have been deleterious at best and are aware of the dire predictions for Planet Earth’s future viability unless this human activity is modified speedily and thoroughly. The effects of climate change are as evident now as they were when Ms. George’s play had its debut at Two River Theatre in New Jersey in 2017. Perhaps even more so. So why does New York Theatre Workshop team up with Women’s Project Theater to resurrect this problematic play?
The answer is not readily evident in this 2019 “re-conceiving” of “Hurricane Diane” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop’s East Village venue. As they did in 2017, Madeleine George and director Leigh Silverman team up to explore Dionysus’ attempt to shake things up in the upscale Jersey Shore cul-de-sac where four housewives will hopefully serve as the beginning of the god’s attempts to save mortals from their incessant penchant for self-destruction. The god of all things bacchanal decides to appear as Diane (a static and dispassionate Becca Blackwell) to “start up a mystery cult” as a landscaper “with a focus on sustainability and small-scale permaculture.”
Diane had been living outside of Burlington, Vermont “living off the grid with a bunch of lesbian separatists” and though she could have stayed there forever, Diane knew she was needed to begin the revolution that would restore the earth. Diane targets four New Jersey housewives in the attempt to convince them to landscape their property in a way that “restores it to a semblance of the lush primeval forest that once stood where [they] stand right now.” Diane first pitches the idea to Carol Fleischer (an aptly named, storm-laden, and resilient Mia Barron). Carol, overcome by Diane’s charms, initially decides to accept the permaculture makeover. When she decides otherwise, Diane then turns to the remaining three they need for her mystery cult.
The remaining thin plot centers around Diane’s pitch to Pam Annunziata (a screechy, loud, although likeable Danielle Skraastad), to Beth Wann (a bland, needy, and wistful Kate Wetherhead), and to Renee Shapiro-Epps (a competitive, classy, and corporate Michelle Beck). After the three hapless housewives capitulate to Diane’s persuasive pitch, the landscaper returns to seduce Carol. In the end, Carol cannot compromise “her story,” the story of getting what she wants despite the impact her greed has on the environment and on the future of the Planet. Carol growls on the countertop, Diane exits, a big storm arrives, and the overwrought play ends with a barely audible chorus of defeat and culpability from Pam, Beth, and Renee.
The characters – all of them – are underdeveloped, mostly static, with less than interesting conflicts. So how could there possibly be an engaging plot? They seem not to care for themselves or for one another; therefore, it is difficult to care for them. All Leigh Silverman can do is move them around in ways they do not collide with one another on Rachel Hauck’s confined and confining set.
Nothing in the play advances an understanding of climate change, global warming, or carbon emissions. Nor is there anything in this exasperating play that advances an understanding of the role of women in general, or the role of women of color, or the important issues of gender identity. The members of the cast do their best; however, their very best cannot rescue this ill-conceived production that is burdened not only with stereotypes, but also with outmoded understandings of human sexuality and sexual practice.
The cast for “Hurricane Diane” includes Mia Barron, Michelle Beck, Becca Blackwell, Danielle Skraastad, and Kate Wetherhead.
“Hurricane Diane” features 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, and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly. Melanie J. Lisby serves as Stage Manager.
“Hurricane Diane” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street) through Sunday March 10, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday-Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.mm, Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Exceptions: there will be no performances on Sunday, February 24; and no 7:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, March 10. Single tickets for “Hurricane Diane” start at $35 and vary by performance date and time. Visit https://www.nytw.org/ or https://wptheater.org/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Mia Barron in “Hurricane Diane.” Credit: Joan Marcus.