A lesbian deity gets earthy in ‘Hurricane Diane’ at Georgetown

This exceptional production is equal parts hilarious, sobering, pulpy, and poignant.

What happens when a lascivious lesbian has a mission to convert suburban housewives to … the climate-sustainable ways of permaculture? You won’t be able to resist either! Hurricane Diane is equal parts hilarious, sobering, pulpy, and poignant. Prepare to surrender to the gale force and butch charisma of Diane, incognito as the Greek god Dionysus, in this production presented by the Georgetown University Department of Performing Arts. This is an exceptional production that you don’t want to miss.

Hurricane Diane is Pulitzer Prize finalist playwright Madeleine George’s take on the mythical Greek god Dionysus, known chiefly as the deity of wine, fertility, and theater who surrounded himself with worshipful women as acolytes as a way to prove his powers. In George’s version, climate change, suburban gardening, and sexual seduction collide, and Dionysus is a woman who has been living among us in various guises, including a sailor, stripper, rock star, and mayor.

Jane Cai as Diane in ‘Hurricane Diane.’ Photo by Chris Banks.

Most recently as explained in an opening monologue spectacularly delivered by Jane Cai as Diane, she’s been living off the grid with a bunch of lesbian separatists (in a “consensus-based community,” what else?) outside of Burlington, Vermont, operating her own landscaping business with a focus on sustainability and small-scale permaculture.

But now it’s time for Dionysus/Diane to return because humans are despoiling the earth to such a degree that humanity will be decimated and “there won’t be a single human left on the planet to worship me!” So, it’s time for a comeback, and Red Bank, New Jersey, suburbia is the perfect place, where Diane storms into the lives of four housewives living on a cul-de-sac to offer her services as a gardener like no other. The time implied is the recent Hurricane Sandy past.

Diane pulls out all the stops to convince the housewives to choose sustainability over curb appeal and appearances. She cajoles, reasons, and insists. She flirts and swaggers. And seduction is not off the table; it’s on the menu. A word here about that: Director Michael T. Williams stages the action clearly showing the housewives as willing participants giving in to Diane’s butch charisma, evident by the actors’ physical movements and reactions to Diane (and in one case being the aggressor rather than the pursued). And it’s obvious that Intimacy & Movement Choreographer Kate Al-Shamma approached the action and the actors with care and consideration. The seduction development and choreography is exquisite. So yes, Diane is lascivious — but seeking and receiving consent.

Additionally, the pacing is excellent. The script is full of zingers. It offers all of the actors an opportunity to shine, and shine they do. From the opening moment, Diane (Jane Cai) commands the stage using voice and body in a lengthy monologue that convinces you of her deity and passion for permaculture. Her charm keeps growing throughout the show. Her nods and winks to the audience pull us in. Cai’s comic timing is impeccable. Her performance is captivating and credible.

Jane Cai as Diane and Claire Cabel as Carol in ‘Hurricane Diane.’ Photo by Chris Banks.

Diane first approaches Carol (Claire Cable), who admits her husband Bill doesn’t love her. Carol tells Diane, “I need you to bring my fantasies to life.” Those fantasies turn out to be a wrought-iron accent bench and a lawn with curb appeal in the mold of the prefect photo spreads she drools over in neighbor Renee’s HGTV magazine. It would be easy to dismiss Carol, who is all about “curb appeal.” But as embodied by Cable, Carol emerges as more than a comfort-seeking caricature. She reveals Carol’s inner torment and repressed rage while insisting Diane respect her boundaries. It’s a nuanced portrayal of a woman on the edge holding tight to a view of herself and her world seeking HGTV perfection.

Amelia Scott as Pam is simply magnetic as the opinionated, brassy, jewelry-laden, animal-print-wearing, heart-on-her-sleeve Italian American. She delivers so many hilarious lines with priceless aplomb. You can’t take your eyes off her. And her Jersey accent is killer and spot on. She’s the truth-teller, brutally direct but quick to apologize when she crosses the line. She’s entirely believable, and convincing in every respect.

Beth (Lucia McLaughlin) is terrific as the housewife with the overgrown lawn unattended since her husband left her. When we meet her she exudes fragility. McLaughlin demonstrates a range of emotions as she moves from insecure and insignificant to assured and confident. She changes her voice register and volume. Somehow, even her eyes twinkle after signing on to Diane’s agenda. It’s tough to play a part with so many layers, and McLaughlin does an excellent job.

Renee (Jazmyn Harmon), the HGTV executive, is the one housewife who needs no convincing about sustainable gardening or hooking up with Diane. She’s believable as the cutting-edge climate change acolyte who is eager to follow Diane’s lead. She plays Renee as likable and genial, yet ready to call out nonsense. Her silences carry as much weight as her dialogue.

Costume Designer Dorothy Barnes Driggers has done an excellent job outfitting each housewife, from Renee’s tunic to Pam’s snug animal prints to Carol’s Talbot’s look to Beth’s hoodie. Well done.

Amelia Scott as Pam, Lucia McLaughlin as Beth, Jane Cai as Diane, and Jazmyn Harmon as Renee in ‘Hurricane Diane.’ Photo by Chris Banks.

A single set represents all four kitchens of the housewives’ cookie-cutter houses. Jessica Trementozzi’s scenic design conveys New Jersey upper-middle-class affluence to perfection: a modern kitchen with wooden accents, a long island in the middle that I read as granite-topped with a sink in it flanked by four stools, a pricey stainless steel stove with raised vented hood, a set of multi-paned French doors that open to the garden in the rear. It’s the place where a bottle of wine is never far from reach, where things get cooking figuratively, where Diane flirts, while the housewives banter and bicker and occasionally engage the audience.

As a queer woman, it’s refreshing to experience DC theater on something of a tear this spring in featuring lesbians. Just a week ago I was delighted by the lesbians in Bryna Turner’s At the Wedding at Studio Theatre and now get to feast again on Madeleine George’s Hurricane Diane, with a play centered on another powerful woman, this one a masculine butch lesbian. I hope it’s the start of a new and renewed direction for DC theater. I want to see more lesbians, all of us in all of our diversity.

In the end, this reimagining of a Greek god is realistic and hopeful. Hurricane Diane implores us not to ignore the impending storms and disasters ahead. As the play closes with a new storm descending on the cul-de-sac, the question for the audience is, Are we going to wait until it is too late?

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

Hurricane Diane plays through April 20, 2024, presented by Georgetown University’s Department of Performing Arts Theater and Performance Studies Program performing in the Devine Studio Theatre of the Davis Performing Arts Center, Georgetown University, Georgetown University, 3700 O St NW, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets ($3 students, $10 general) online.

The performance on Thursday, April 18, will be ASL interpreted.

COVID Safety: Wearing a mask is optional. GU’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center is here.

Hurricane Diane
By Madeleine George

Lucia McLaughlin as Beth; Amelia Scott as PAM; Jazmyn Harmon as RENEE; Jane Cai as DIANE; Claire Cable as CAROL; Jenna Pae (Swing, U/S Carol).

Director, Michael T. Williams; Associate Director, Ollie Henry; Assistant Directors, Joanna Ray & Briana Sparacino; Stage Manager, Shee Shee Jin; Assistant Stage Managers, Ava Schneiberg & Kat Bouker; Director of Production, Alicia DiGiorgi; Scenic Designer, Jessica Trementozzi; Lighting Designer, Kristin A. Thompson; Sound Designer & Composer, Michael Costagliola; Wardrobe Supervisor, Damien Sedlak; Props Designer, Isaac DeMarchi.

Assistant to the Scenic Designer, Liza Smaliak; Assistant Props Designer, Lindsay Khalluf; Costume Designer, Dorothy Barnes Driggers; Intimacy & Movement Choreographer, Kate Al-Shamma, Ph.D.; Dialect Coach, Kim Schraf; Dramaturg, Claire Catenaccio; Assistant Dramaturg, Scott Burke, Courtenay Kim-White, and Cynthia Yu; Community Engagement and Development Manager, Stanley Bahorek; Technical Advisor, Callan Daniel; PR/Marketing Specialist, Caitlin Lawlor.


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