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Hurricane Diane

A contemporary updating of Euripides “The Bacchae” by Madeleine George in which Dionysus, now Diane, appears to four New Jersey housewives to teach them about ecology.

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Becca Blackwell in Madeleine George’s “Hurricane Diane” presented by New York Theater Workshop and WP Theater (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

Some plays are simply too complicated for their own good, defying comprehension. This is certainly the case with Madeleine George’s Hurricane Diane, in which the God Dionysus or Bacchus, famously incorporating both male and female characteristics–he went by many names–returns to earth–as a woman–at the present time, in Monmouth County no less, to haunt a bevy of what can best be summarized as “New Jersey Housewives.”

The jovial, welcoming and macho Diane (Becca Blackwell), who stands in for Dionysus, explains that “Gods don’t die, they just change form,” justifying “her” existence during a lengthy, opening monologue. And given “her” anachronistic presence, Diane also says, “You don’t know what time it is on the cosmic clock” before notifying us that it’s ”eleven fucking forty-five,” after telling us that we’ve been “despoiling the green earth” with our “misdeeds” for hundreds of years.

Clad in a god-like white robe with gold trim, and with locks of thick blonde curly hair, Diane reveals an androgynous nature after dropping the robe and seen wearing a plaid work shirt, tan shorts, thick wool socks, and large boots. (The always apt costumes have been designed by Kaye Voyce.)

Michelle Beck, Danielle Skraastad, Mia Barron and Kate Wetherhead in Madeleine George’s “Hurricane Diane” presented by New York Theater Workshop and WP Theater (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Then come the four housewives, who Diane proceeds to transform by systematically sleeping with each of them in turn. They include the pert and self-assured Carol (Mia Barron), the feisty Pam (Danielle Skraastad)–who could have been a character on The Sopranos. With her squeaky, irritating voice, Beth (Kate Wetherhead) says, “I hurt myself meditating the other day.” Finally, there’s Renee (Michelle Beck), who comes across as the most sensible of them all.

With only ten minutes to go in the 90-minute, intermissionless piece, the floor almost literally falls out from under Diane, as the set pulls apart and this rather earthy God says, “Women, let me hear you howl,” as Pam, Renee and Beth start swaying and chanting, “We must dance to be free.” Carol, for her part, becomes stronger than Diane, telling her “I am the storm,” as Barron becomes nothing less than fierce.

Somewhere between a morality tale and a soap opera, nothing about Hurricane Diane feels real. This is in spite of the highly realistic kitchen, designed by Rachel Hauck, which serves as the set for each of the wives we meet.

Kate Wetherhead, Michelle Beck and Danielle Skraastad, and in Madeleine George’s “Hurricane Diane” presented by New York Theater Workshop and WP Theater (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Whatever problems one has with the play, the cast cannot be faulted. Blackwell is a towering if hulking Diane, Barron and Skraastad are both highly stylized as, respectively, Carol and Pam, Wetherhead a willowy Beth, and Beck an elegant Renee–until she loses her cool.

When you read something–whether an article, an essay, a novel, a biography, or even a play–you do so at your own pace, which enhances understanding. When seeing a play, the pace is at the director’s discretion; and in the case of Hurricane Diane, director Leigh Silverman has whipped up a speedy storm, which interferes with our ability to follow the story. But then again, as already mentioned, the story is far too complicated to follow or apprehend. It spins out of control and over our heads.

Hurricane Diane (through March 24, 2019)

New York Theatre Workshop, a co-production with WP Theater

New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-780-9037 or visit http://www.nytw.org

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

 

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David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (105 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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