Hurricane Diane at the Kitchen Theatre through June 26 (kitchentheatre.org)
Comedy explodes across the Kitchen Theatre stage in the stupendous regional premiere of Madeline George’s Hurricane Diane.
The Kitchen’s new Artistic Director Rebecca Bradshaw lands her local directorial debut with blazing assurance. Leaning into George’s generous comic sensibility, she brings each brief scene to the brink of disaster without loss of tension, all the while allowing over-the-top performances from a quintet of fabulous actors who simultaneously root themselves deeply in their characters’ emotional reality.
George’s theatrical imagination encompasses the absurd and the irrational, pitting immense ideas, history and mythologies against the contemporary everyday to tease out new possibilities. She specializes in shifts of perspective.
In the case of Hurricane Diane, she imagines a version of Euripides’ The Bacchae set against a cul-de-sac neighborhood of New Jersey matrons. Dionysius, demi-god of chaos, ecstasy and wine, descends from their mountain (currently a farm near Burlington, Vermont) in an urgent campaign to save the planet from the climate crisis.
In their current “guise of a butch gardener named Diane,” the demi-god(dess) is on the hunt to seduce to her worship four acolytes, the minimum number they need to fuel their fix the planet plans.
This sets up a glorious collision of cultures and viewpoints (upper-middle-class suburbia versus pagan nature/wildness) which results in a raucous, zany, exhilarating and very sexy comedy, interlaced with moments of piercing sadness.
Jackie Rivera dazzles as Diane, brandishing puckish energy, a wicked, knowing smile, acrobatic physicality and a jaunty self-assurance in pursuit of her targets. Their opening monologue, in essence a stand-up routine, folds the audience securely in their grasp.
Yet Diane is continually surprised by these women and their resistance to her charms. Eventually, her conquests mount, except…
Lindsay Brill plays Beth with a haunted, furtive air. Abandoned by her husband, her lawn growing well past the locale’s standards, she is almost feral already, her once tidy life unraveling. A sparkling performance, marked by with a wounded yet fey spirit, has its highlight as she releases a hushed memory of her engagement and marriage.
Cynthia Henderson plays Renee, editor of a glossy HGTV magazine, an ambitious and supposedly centered Black woman who has abandoned her earlier days as a wild woman to achieve being the highest woman of color on the staff of an influential publication. Henderson’s Renee is all graciousness, accommodation, looking for compromise. Renee too is graced with a monologue before she succumbs, veneer cracking, anger and heartache pouring out as her publisher nixes an article but commends her for giving “authenticity” to the staff. Henderson pronounces that coded word with quiet, fierce nausea before she lets loose her leash.
Melissa Miller may be familiar from the Kitchen’s Cry It Out. Again, playing Pam, she is all New Jersey Italian brassiness, now upper-middle-class. She is be prepared personified, arming her home to the teeth with goods to ride out any disaster. She will defeat nature with A Plan. Miller charges through her performance hilariously, holding no prisoners.
Which leaves Carol, played by Erica Steinhagen with frosty, regal assurance. If Diane is irresistible force, Carol is immovable object. No, she will NOT go outside. She wants her new garden to have “curb appeal.” Steinhagen commits ferociously to Carol’s refusal to change, and neatly counters every ploy by vixenish Diane.
Acting and direction are superbly matched by Izmir Ickbal’s scenic design, abstract cookie-cutter suburbia in bold, clean lines, and bright colors, Chelsea Kerl’s adept and individualized costuming, and a sharp light and sound show of the approaching hurricane conducted by M.E. Berry on lighting design and Lesley Lisa Greene on sound design.
A play and production of the utmost magic.
You have four more chances to catch it in person: Thursday June 23 at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 and Sunday June 26 at 4:00. OR you can stream it at home also through June 26 (pay what you can).