I have eagerly followed the WP Theater since 1978 when it was launched by Julia Miles and was called the Women’s Project. Now, with a snappy moniker, it is in its, her, 40th season. This means it is the oldest and largest theater company dedicated to developing and producing the work of women at every stage of their careers.
I have seen the work of Eve Ensler, Maria Irene Fornes, Pam MacKinnon, Lynn Nottage and Anna Devere Smith, among others, through the auspices of WP Theater. Now WP has partnered with The New York Theater Workshop NYTW, to present Hurricane Diane, a hip new play morphing gender, Greek mythology and radical imagining of a better ecological world. This requires some unpacking.
Hurricane Diane is written by Madeline George and directed by the bright light that is Leigh Silverman. The five-person cast headed by Becca Blackwell, whose pronoun is they, is astounding. The play is a gender-bending tale of Dionysus, Bacchus, aka Diane who returns to earth in an attempt to right the whirling green ball that our planet as it spins toward annihilation due to climatic chaos. Diane is a red headed god/goddess whose plot is to seduce four New Jersey housewives, both sexually and ecologically. Diane wants the women to spearhead a return to permaculture gardening, a state where lawns and curbs and boundaries between properties are banished and the world returns to ecological harmony.
In the hands of another theatrical team this could be heavy handed, but this 130-minute evening is full of belly laughs and equally important provocative moments of ecological reflection. The play unfolds in a suburban kitchen on a cul-de-sac where Pam, Rene, Beth and Carol all live in identical houses. The gals engage in coffee klatches sharing snippets of their lives. Beth is a meek recently divorced member of the gang and Kate Wetherhead plays her dithering to great comic results. Beth is the first to be deflowered by Dionysus as they make their way through the group. Next in line is the character Pam Annunziata, a wowza of an interpretation by Danielle Skraastad. Her Pam is an over the top Sopranos character who convulses the audience with her every appearance. Michelle Beck tackles the character Renee, a high-end shelter mag editor, and the only person of color in the gang and at her place of work. Renee is reserved and bright, all the better to fall into the seductive clutches of permaculture and the god/dess. Mia Barron’s character Carol is the first we meet and the last to topple during the final storm. Carol is tightly wound. She wants Diane to redesign her garden, but doesn’t actually want to venture forth outside as she has an abhorrence of nature in its actuality.
The kitchen set, by Rachel Hauch, imaginatively busts apart during the finale when the women themselves are torn open by Dionysus and the hurricane that is ravaging their neighborhood and their personages. Kaye Voyce’s costumes support all character choices and Barbara Samuels’ light provide evocative scene changes and mood enhancements. Of course Leigh Silverman’s direction, as ever, lets actors find their best paths and gives audiences the opportunity to revel in new work where we can be challenged and entertained in equal measure.
What a pleasure it is to extoll a cast and crew where the majority is comprised of women or persons choosing not to be defined by gender. This is a glorious evening in the theater and it made me want to rip out any semblance of unwild horticulture I have in my life and replace it with wild imaginings.
Hurricane Diane at New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth Street www.nytw.org 212 780 9037