Review: HURRICANE DIANE at Iron Crow

Gale Force Acting in a Storm Filled Story

By: Jan. 22, 2023
Review: HURRICANE DIANE at Iron Crow
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Hurricane Diane blew onto the stage at Theatre Project with gale-force acting in a storm of emotional performances that left some of us in the audience shaken, a little disturbed, but ultimately thoroughly entertained, as we've come to expect no less from one of the outstanding Queer theatres of the eastern seaboard, Iron Crow. Batten down your hatches, because when this thing gets going, it's a hellava wild ride.

Written by multiple award-winning writer Madeleine George, this production deals with a number of themes, including permaculture, climate change, urban forestation, repressed or unexpressed sexuality, with an overriding undercurrent of Greek mythology tossed in for good measure.

Not the easiest piece of theatre I've ever had to sum up, but I'll give it a shot: Dionysus, Bacchus, pick a God/Goddess' name has returned to earth in the form of a butch, climate-conscious, landscaping lesbian named Diane. When one of a quartet of married women living on a generic cul-de-sac in a New Jersey suburb wants a makeover of her backyard, Diane swoops in with plans to mow more than the lawn.

Our fun-loving Goddess has decided that in order to save the world from its destruction through climate crises and lack of urban canopy planning, she has to have these four women fall under her spell. Yea, I know, I kinda scratched my head on that aspect, but ok. Add to that the fact that all four of the women have some serious personal issues they're dealing with, not to mention a climactic finale with a hurricane bearing down on them, and you get about 100 minutes of a fascinating character study with some important observations about the state of our planet and our complicated relationships with the earth, our friends and family, and most importantly, ourselves.

Director Natka Bianchini and the team at Iron Crow have crafted an exceptionally professional team of talented artists both on the stage and behind it. Set Designer Rowan Suder's Martha Steward-perfect set, beautifully built by Technical Director Bruce Kapplin is just right as the sole location for all four wives' kitchens. Lighting Designer Janine Vreatt does one of the cleverest light design schemes I've seen in some time, especially the scenes of early morning sunlight. Heather Johnson's costumes are exactly what each of the four should be wearing, with just enough variation from scene to scene that each change still captures the role's required look.

In the hands of a less skilled director, this piece could have easily devolved into high camp. But this was laser-focused, superb direction, with tight, just-right staging, and the sure hand of a real pro. Natka Bianchini raises the bar to new heights.

The four denizens of the Perfect Cul-de-Sac of New Jersey are all terrific actors, though none are at all alike. They each are variations of standard female, married (mostly) tropes, and that is precisely why the script works. Showing how these so seemingly ordinary characters that we are all too familiar with can harbor such deep emotions that it takes an actual Goddess to pry them out of their suburban ruts, takes some truly talented actors. All five of these folks more than rise to the occasion.

Hana Clarice as Beth Wann is - at first meeting - a ditzy, unfocused recently abandoned homemaker who's not even sure which kitchen is hers. But as the character develops, the actor grows and becomes more centered. And it's a fascinating trajectory as portrayed by Ms. Wann.

Melanie Kurstin's Pam Annunziata, who may or may not be a Mafia wife, is a hilariously characterized version of a Snookie-like homemaker, complete with the tacky jewelry, animal print Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, and enough push-up in the bra that it's a wonder she could breathe. Perfect.

Kayla Leacock slowly reveals that her character, the ultra controlled editor for HGTV Magazine, has some deeply unresolved conflicts. Leacock plays the part with absolute certainty of what she wants, even if it takes a Goddess to get her to face what it is. A joy to witness.

And as for Melinda Nanovsky as Carol Fleischer, this lady is wrapped so tight that it gives away too much of the plot to tell just how far she's willing to go to hang on to what's left of her marriage, her lifestyle as she knows it, and what passes for the remnants of her dignity. Excellently done.

The first thing I noticed about Sabriaya Shipley as she appeared from the back of the audience was how gracefully she descended the stairs, telling the story of Dionysus in what had to be a multi-paged monologue, never stumbling, never mumbling, and commanding the attention of the entire theatre. As she sheds the gown, dons the obligatory flannel shirt and knit ski-cap of her landscaper persona, Diane, Ms. Shipley lets us in the jokes with a wink and a nudge, sharing her plan to seduce the four women in order to save them from their devastatingly clueless existences and therefore the very planet. She is tough, feisty and determined. And I couldn't help but remember an old TV commercial from the 70's whose tag line was, 'It's not NICE to fool Mother Nature!' This was acting at its finest.

Hurricane Diane swirls and whirls its way across the stage, laying bare the hopes and unrealized longings of four people and the overarching ambition of a frustrated Goddess, all the while educating the audience about topics as diverse as corporate race relations and permacultures, and college sexual experimentation that may have meant more than was acknowledged.

The always excellent Iron Crow theatre company once again proves that its theme of Defiance is perfectly suited to the roster of plays it's sharing with us this year. So sit down, hang on, and enjoy the wind in your theatrical sails!

Hurricane Diane runs through February 5th at Theatre Project, 45 West Preston Street. Tickets and info are available at https://www.ironcrowtheatre.org/hurricanediane




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