If you were a god who specialized in green and growing things and wanted to try to save the planet, New Jersey aka “The Garden State” may seem like the natural place to start. In HURRICANE DIANE, the new comedy by playwright Madeleine George, playing at The Old Globe proves that while Jersey may have that nickname it’s not a bed of roses.
Step one of the plan: Dionysus, Greek god of wine, vegetation, and festivity (with a side of wild frenzy) comes to New Jersey. Dionysus wants to heal the damage done to the planet and abandon the current destructive path through a “new era of planetary healing“.
Step two: Knowing that people sometimes get weird in the presence of a demigod, Dionysus (Rami Margron) takes the form of Diane, a lesbian gardener with a green thumb and a plan for to turn the four neighbors of a cul-de-sac into the first of many ardent, frenzied worshipers. In order to restore the earth to a lush and verdant state, Diane/Dionysus needs the fervent worship and accolades in order to do the work required (who doesn’t?)
The minimum number to really get the powers flowing is four women, two on each side “it’s a balance thing” Diane explains casually. The best way to do that?
Step Three: Get four neighbors to find and unleash their inner wild side. Have them hire you as a landscape gardener and convince them of the beauty of a wild, garden filled with compatible plants in imitation of natural ecosystems.
Since their cookie-cutter house layouts, and complimentary yards and “curb appeal’ are so important, once Diane gets one housewife to succumb then the rest should fall like dominions.
Beth (Jennifer Paredes) is a slightly skittish woman whose life and yardwork are in need of tending after her husband left her. She’s friends with the others, but her un-mowed lawn does nothing for their resale value.
Pam (Jenn Harris) a delightfully garish, leopard print wearing, straight-talking, comedic stereotype of a New Jersey housewife – wanting a yard that reminds her of Italy (a place she’s never been) and prefers to wear “natural prints” like her ice blue leopard dress.
Renee (Opal Alladin) is a high ranking woman of color for HGTV magazine, who thinks this might be the kind of planting to shake up the unimaginative and orderly gardens normally featured.
Carol (Liz Wisan), is the ideal HGTV magazine reader, who uses clippings from it as her vision board for the perfect, contained yard and the ideal little wrought iron accent bench. The idea of nature without firm borders practically makes her break out in hives.
“I just want to have a nice coffee-like always,” Carol laments while pouring another glass of champagne for herself as her neighbors seem to be slowly losing their minds.
Step four: even the best-laid plans go awry – even if you’re a demi-god.
Margron as Diane is charismatic, funny, charming, and it’s not hard to see why these housewives start to succumb.
Wisan is the most brittle and unyielding as Carol and plays well against Paredes as the scattered Beth, Alladin as the funny and competitive Renee, while Harris brings a self-assertive comedic bite to the group as Pam.
The four housewives have an authentic feeling of friendship, regardless of how different that may seem. While they may bicker they do all worry about the increasing frequency of storms, their past experience living through the last one, and an increasing feeling they only have a superficial feeling of control to their well-ordered lives.
The play is a very funny tragi-comedy with a cast that ably deliver one-liners, serve as a Greek chorus, and send up the real housewives all at once. Direction by James Vásquez is clever and vibrant and makes the best use of this talented cast.
Everything is complemented by the Shirley Pierson costuming, Jo Winiarski‘s set that functions as everyone’s kitchen in this premade housing complex, the right balance between darkness and light in the lighting by Cat Tate Starmer, and Drew Levy‘s sound design featuring sound effects and music.
The play has a fun, and female, comedic energy that powers the show. While the play itself weaves the ideas of climate change and politics in amongst the fun and frivolity, the ending feels a bit abruptly unresolved as it ends.
HURRICANE DIANE may have landed in San Diego but it brings with it some gale-force laughter with a sprinkle of things to ponder after the show.
To read the review for JITNEY also currently playing at The Old Globe click here