Review: HURRICANE DIANE at Avant Bard Theatre

The play is entertaining and funny with a powerful message about the dangers of environmental destruction.

By: May. 24, 2023
Review: HURRICANE DIANE at Avant Bard Theatre
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            Retellings of well-known tales or mythology can be particularly compelling since they tap into a ready-made audience and can take advantage of the audiences’ familiarity or twist it into wholly unexpected interpretations. Hurricane Diane, Avant Bard Theatre’s latest take on the complicated, elusive god of wine-making, vegetation, festivity, religious ecstasy, and, fittingly, theatre seeks to do just that in its modern-day Dionysus story. Dionysus (also called Bacchus) has many origins and iterations, appearing not just in Greek and Roman mythologies, but also in Egyptian myths and with notable overlaps with the Hindu god, Shiva, and is commonly depicted as travelling widely. His many interpretations and stories (ranging from being a demigod to manifesting fully-grown from Zeus’ thigh to being the son of Persephone to the husband of Demeter) make him a compelling focus for a play.


            Hurricane Diane flips Dionysus’ gender and sets her in modern times. Distraught over the destruction of the earth’s environment and the impending end of humanity as the result of an inhabitable planet, Dionysus leaves her Vermont commune and, as Diane, sets out to revive the ritualistic worship that characterized her ancient forms, with the intent of spreading her message of environmental preservation before it’s too late. Her movement’s ground zero is a small cul-de-sac in New Jersey, home to four women who are each lost in their own way. Diane works to earn the trust and eventual worship of the women, hoping to set off a new age in which the earth is returned to its natural state.

Review: HURRICANE DIANE at Avant Bard Theatre
Jenna Berk (Carol), Diane Cooper-Gould (Beth), and Lolita Marie (Renee)

            While the plot to Madeleine George’s play is a bit convoluted at points (Diane’s unexplained fear of the impending hurricane seems nonsensical for a possible child of Zeus, and creates an equally inexplicable deadline for her efforts), it’s also an entertaining and funny production with a powerful message about how close to immanent disaster humanity has brought our planet, and how difficult it will be to undo the damage, if it’s even possible. The show examines the different motives that drive people to make the decisions they do, even the most self-destructive ones, and whether it’s possible to ever really gain the consensus we need as a society to address our biggest issues. The script relies a little on some stereotypes, but it’s also packed with thoughtful monologues and clever dialogue.


            Part of what centers this production is the incredible cast. Diane Cooper-Gould’s Beth starts off on the borderline of a caricature, but watching her evolve over the course of the show is fascinating and an incredibly persuasive argument for Diane’s efforts – Cooper-Gould treats the character’s fragility, which can easily be dismissed, with a care that makes a richer character with her performance. As Renee, Lolita Marie’s layered performance as the high-profile magazine editor with a much more, let’s say Bacchanalian past, is fun and full of subtleties that make her extremely engaging to watch. Alyssa Sanders’ Pam screams “New Jersey” almost more than the choice to include Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi as the interval music between scenes – she has the thickest accent, wears leopard print, and moves through life with the unique combination of anxiety and “zero effs” that anyone from the Tri-State area will recognize in an instant – the only thing she was missing was snapping her gum. Sanders’s fierceness makes Pam’s vulnerable scenes play beautifully, but she’s at her best when she’s leaning into her matter-of-fact wise-cracking. Diane’s first and hardest target, Carol, is played by the solid Jenna Berk, whose stoicism is increasingly impressive throughout the production, especially when interlaced with a display of emotionality that should be at odds but in fact works incredibly well with her characterization. Berk’s careful movements make her confrontations with Diane all the more engrossing. And, as Diane, Caro Dubberly has the same charismatic energy their character is renowned for – they're magnetic, with a sonorous voice and a mischievous undercurrent that makes their personification of the god of festivity and ritual madness seem quite fitting. The cast together has great chemistry, believable as a group of neighbors whose main comradery is the result of their address, but who have built up a community all the same. Director Stevie Zimmerman draws out fantastic performances from this solid cast, and the staging is quite fun and takes good advantage of the small black box space.

Review: HURRICANE DIANE at Avant Bard Theatre
Lolita Marie (Renee) and Alyssa Sanders (Pam)

            The production elements supporting the cast are a bit more varied. Hailey LaRoe’s lighting design was spot-on, and really heightened the show’s beats and climax in a way that felt satisfying and engaging, especially when paired with Delaney Bray’s skillful sound design. Robert Bowen Smith’s choreography was delightful and apropos, and, like Zimmerman’s efforts, made good use of the theater’s arrangement. However, I was a bit disappointed with Alison Samantha Johnson’s costumes – mostly because some (such as Pam and Renee’s) were incredibly detailed and perfectly fit the characters, while others (such as Carol’s) seemed a bit at odds with the personality (the idea of perfectionist Carol wearing mixed patterns, especially a paint-splattered blazer, to her pharmaceutical office is honestly a bit mind-boggling). Likewise, the set felt like some elements were added last-minute – the decision to have a full marble countertop flanked by stools that fit neatly underneath was incredibly reflective of the planned communities found all over the country, but the use of small side tables that were lower and mismatched from the main piece for the companion counters was confusing and jarring. For a community where aesthetic is everything, it felt that the set was sorely lacking, which was all the more noticeable in the face of the more refined production elements.


            Overall, Hurricane Diane is a fun and thought-provoking production, though you’ll certainly have more fun if you don’t think too hard about the technicalities of the show itself. There’s a lot to enjoy, and a good takeaway message, and, sometimes, that’s enough for an enjoyable theatrical experience.



Avant Bard Theatre’s Hurricane Diane runs at the Gunston Arts Center through June 10, 2023. Production run time is approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. Audience advisories for loud noises, flashing lights, and mature themes. Information on masked and ASL performances, the venue, and tickets can be found on the Avant Bard website.


Photos courtesy of DJ Corey Photography. Banner photo features Caro Dubberly as Diane.


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