You wouldn’t think at first glance that a play about global warming would be a laugh riot. But you would be wrong.
A charismatic, butch, lesbian hurricane named Diane has blown into Gunston Arts Theatre Two, and the rough magic of this tempest will have you almost rolling in the aisles before you know it.
Diane, played by Caro Dubberly, enters swathed in green and crowned with a wreath. With a jaunty air and a devil-may-care grin, she proclaims that she is “called by many names—Bacchus, Bromius, Dionysus.”
DIANE: [Gods] don’t die. They just change form. We’re still with you, all of us. I mean, they don’t care about you, those other guys. Hermes? Apollo? I haven’t heard from those assholes in centuries. But I stayed close to you. I don’t know why, maybe because I was born of a mortal woman? I’ve kept busy, I’ve done a million different things over the years, I mean, sailor, stripper, rock star, mayor. Most recently I’ve been living outside of Burlington, Vermont — I had my own business up there, with a focus on sustainability and small-scale permaculture. And I’ve been happy. Vermont? Is a fucking paradise!
After gladdening the hearts of Bernie Sanders and his many fans, Diane reveals to us, bit by bit, her plan. She will sneak in, on the down low, seduce a few (well, actually four) womyn residents of a Red Bank, New Jersey, cul-de-sac, and turn them into Diane’s very own Bacchantes. These freshly awakened Maenads will howl, dance, reconnect with the profound power of their womanhood, and bring about “a new era of planetary healing.”
The first we meet is Carol (Jenna Berk), a perfectly turned-out housewife with a job at a dastardly pharmaceutical company (is there any other kind?). Diane offers Carol gardening services, but their first meeting proves inauspicious. Carol is a “wrought-iron accent bench” kind of girl — that’s what they call each other, girls — and Diane is … well, Diane is a demigod who favors a “lush primeval forest” full of pawpaw trees, blueberries, thimbleberries, and teeming with beneficial insects, worms, and beetles.
Carol is not sold. She knows exactly what she wants.
CAROL: Anyway, what I really love is when they get a theme going, a nice concept that unifies the entire space. So like here — see how the shutters pick up the purple of the hydrangea? And then they carry it down to those little flowers, I don’t know what they’re called?
CAROL: Right, that’s such a unique touch.
Carol and her husband, Bill, love the neighborhood but wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt the resale value. Jenna Berk’s portrayal of Carol is pitch-perfect; she manages to satirize the character even as she plays her, which is exactly what the play demands. Dubberly’s expressions are comic gems as they watch Carol detail her aesthetic. They resemble that non-gender-specific look known in some circles as “please shut up so I can kiss you.”
Renee (Lolita Marie), an editor at HGTV Magazine, reminisces often about a lesbian relationship she had in college, hanging out in bars around Providence. She lived in a permaculture commune back in the day, so she and Diane have that in common too. Renee even attempts to sell a feature about Diane to her executive editor, Lisette.
RENEE: I was like, Permaculture: Yard of the Future! Heal Your Garden, Heal the Planet! I was all, wait till you meet Diane in person, the way she talks about these ideas, she makes you want to run outside and rip out your lawn with your bare hands!
Lisette loves Renee’s authenticity, but she isn’t interested.
The most forlorn of the four is Beth (Diane Cooper-Gould), whose husband has recently left her. Here is Beth’s heartbreaking monologue on the night before her wedding:
BETH: I all of a sudden had this very strong feeling like No No Don’t leave me Don’t leave! Inside me was a box, and I knew if I was alone, even for one night, the lid might fly open and all the leather-winged wildness inside would swarm out. And I would never be able to get it back in again.
Alyssa Sanders as Pam is the quintessential Jersey Girl. Besides being screamingly funny, she is unaffected and caring. She seems the most at peace with her choices.
PAM: I mean that’s it, really, isn’t it? No matter what happens you want to be able to look back and say I did my best. What came at me, I knocked it back over the net best I could…But this is the other thing … till God takes your last breath it’s not too late to change your plans. Don’t be afraid to be very bold in that direction.
Caro Dubberly finds both comedy and unexpected depth in Diane. Director Stevie Zimmerman has drawn exceptionally fine performances from her actors. Both dialogue and movement are deeply revelatory of character and full of humorous touches.
Scenic consultant Sara Beth Hall’s set is, appropriately, a large kitchen, attractive and versatile. Each woman has a recognizable suburban style; and anyone who has been at a mall recently will be reminded of Eileen Fisher, Talbots, wrap dresses, and natural prints. The Grecian robes come later, but I don’t want to give anything away. (Costumes are by Alison Samantha Johnson.) Robert Bowen Smith’s choreography is a joy to watch. Lighting is by Hailey LaRoe, and props are by Liz Long.
The women speak often of Superstorm Sandy, which was traumatic for them all. Another storm comes in during the play. But laughter, and the future of the planet, seem to go together beautifully after all.
Running time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Hurricane Diane runs through June 10, 2023, presented by Avant Bard Theatre performing at Gunston Arts Center Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA. General admission tickets are $40. For tickets and details visit Avant Bard’s website.
The program for Hurricane Diane is online here.
COVID Safety: Avant Bard requests that patrons wear face masks for the safety of the performers.
Avant Bard is committed to making theater accessible and affordable. Gunston Arts Center Theatre Two is wheelchair accessible. Additionally, the following performance will feature American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation:
- Saturday, June 3, 2023, at 2 p.m.
To ensure that audience members who may be immunocompromised can attend the production, there are two dedicated performances that are “mask required”:
- Friday, June 2, 2023, at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday, June 3, 2023, at 2 p.m.
By Madeleine George
Directed by Stevie Zimmerman
Diane: Caro Dubberly
Carol: Jenna Berk
Renee: Lolita Marie
Pam: Alyssa Sanders
Beth: Diane Cooper-Gould
Director: Stevie Zimmerman
Producers: Avant Bard Producing Partners
Production Manager: Sara Barker
Stage Manager: Valarie McFatter
Scenic Consultant: Sara Beth Hall
Lighting Designer: Hailey LaRoe
Costume Designer: Alison Samantha Johnson
Props Designer: Liz Long
Sound Designer: Delaney Bray
Choreographer: Robert Bowen Smith
Asst. Scene Consultant: Brian Gillick
Technical Director: Jarrod DiGiorgi
Master Electrician: Joe Miller
Avant Bard to top off season with eco comedy ‘Hurricane Diane’ (news story, April 24, 2023)