Pawpaw Trees are the Gateway to Orgiastic Ritual: “Hurricane Diane”

Jennifer Bubriski, Kris Sidberry, Esme Allen, Marianna Bassham, and Rami Margron “Hurricane Diane” Photo: Nile Hawver

Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company
Written by Madeleine George
Directed by Jenny Koons 
Original music and sound design by Ben Scheff
Voice coaching by Christine Hamel
Intimacy Consultant: Ayshia Mackie-Stephenson

The Playbill
August 27 – September 26, 2021
Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA 
527 Tremont Street 
Boston MA 02116
The Huntington on social media: @huntington

PLEASE NOTE: This production includes strobe lighting effects and a simulated thunderstorm.

Critique by Kitty Drexel

“You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

– Dorothy Parker, theatre critic, poet & hero

BOSTON, Mass. — Hurricane Diane is fun and topical. It smacks of “The Witches of Eastwick.” Please go see it. 

It is recommended that attendees get vaccinated. Everyone must wear a mask (even performers when not actively performing). It’s not just your friendly, neighborhood theatre critic telling you, it’s also on The Huntington’s website

There are two sets of ushers after the BCA’s Box Office waiting to assist patrons into the theater. The first set of BCA staff will confirm your vaccination status or proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. It behooves you to have this info at the ready so one doesn’t create a traffic jam. 

The second set of BCA staffers will check your ticket. A final BCA rep will guide you to your seat.  All are masked, polite but firm. Please be kind to them. They are doing the work for which they get paid: asserting the Boston Center of the Arts’ COVID-19 ticketing, health and safety policies. 

If you don’t like the policies, which are available on the website, for the love of Sartre, please stay home. Leprosy is curable; COVID-19 is not.  

Regular theatre-goers will notice that the BCA offers more roaming space. We attended on Sept. 2 and the orchestra section was approximately half full. There was room to stretch our legs. We could actually hear the chimes indicating patrons should get to their seats! 

It was luxurious! So luxurious that one should consider donating to The Huntington if they can. Empty seats signify empty coffers. Your donation means The Huntington can continue to exist for another season. 

Hurricane Diane is about the return of the Greek God Dionysus’s (Rami Margron) return to the modern world as a landscaping architect for uber-wealthy New Jersey wives (Esme Allen with the limpest wrists in all the land, Marianna Bassham, Jennifer Bubriski, Kris Sidberry). Dionysus, god of wine, theatre, and sexual ecstasy, needs acolytes. Dionysus starts with their four new clients with varying amounts of success. 

This play attacks with surgical precision and no ambiguity themes of climate change, loneliness, communal malaise, and toxic femininity. The wives we meet bonded before the show starts when they hid from a hurricane together as the weather ravaged their cul-du-sak. Now they meet weekly for Sunday coffee. They’re as close as four women who politely see each other for coffee once a week can be. 

When Diane enters their mini-community to rip up their lawns to plant sustainable pawpaw trees, foxglove, and milk vetch. Their lives are once again upheaved. How they respond to Diane/Dionysus will determine their friendships and their lives. 

Playwright Madeleine George has gone on record to say that Hurricane Diane was influenced heavily by Euripides’ tragedy, The Bacchae. Dionysus’s followers were the maenads, raving women who ritualistically drank and danced themselves into ecstasy. They worshipped through such practices as public nudity, decapitation, and lots of sex.  Hurricane Diane theorizes that there might be a maenad in all of us. It’s difficult to believe this in The Huntington’s version. 

Margron is a great Diane. George gives the actor lots of space to flesh-out the character of Diane. Diane gets a lot of snazzy one-liners that positively drip with innuendo. To deliver Diane with authenticity and personality, an actor must look beyond the innuendos’ easy laughs and see the activism inherent in the play. Margron does that and more. Hurricane Diane isn’t just a hippy-queer fantasy about manmade global warming. I mean, it is, but it’s not only that. Margron helps us see beyond the hippy-dippy laugh factor.  

Hurricane Diane points a pampered, manicured finger with acrylic nails at the people who excuse big business’s planet-killing waste practices for temporary comfort. Not the necessary comforts humans need like compassion or empathy, but unnecessary comforts such as tomatoes from Spain, mint jeans, or sequined pillows that change color.  

Jenny Koons’ staging and direction examine the US’s culture of casual waste. It’s a healthy look into the behaviors behind our wastefulness. Koons and the cast are less particular with the pansexual dynamics of George’s play. Margron gives us a randy Dionysus who just wants to save the planet while getting their freak on, but the other ladies in the cast aren’t as gungho in their parts.   

Rami Margron looking like a whole-ass meal as Diane in “Hurricane Diane.”

As a person who has been told on multiple occasions by cis, straight men that “it isn’t cheating” because queer relationships aren’t as valuable as hetero relationships, it niggles when actors don’t fully engage in a queer role. We believe that Bassham as Beth is so lonely, so needy that she reaches out to Diane. It’s possible that Beth would do this whether Diane was a demi-god or not. 

Bubriski and Sidberry (who otherwise create believable characters who are fun to watch), when given the opportunity to join Dionysus’ band of wanton hedonists, aren’t fully believable. Their characters go from stick straight to questioning and curious in under 60 seconds.  A worthwhile sexual encounter with a demi-god requires at least three minutes of transition. The audience doesn’t see these characters choose to join the Dionysian lifestyle. 

Designer Jen Schriever even gives them pink, purple, and blue bisexual lighting to set the mood. Ben Scheff writes the romance into his music. It isn’t enough. Whether by staging or by acting, something is missing from their encounters. Diane is a fun, thoughtful, fuckable character, but it’s obvious that Pam and Renee aren’t interested. They should be interested. Dionysus/Diane seems like an enthusiastic giver, not a selfish taker*.

Speaking of taking. Texas has all but criminalized abortion. It behooves women AND MEN to tell their politicians that this law should be repealed. Stop purchasing products made in Texas. Donate to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas (we did so on Tuesday). If an issue affects 52% of the population, it isn’t a women’s issue; it’s a human rights issue. Women’s rights are human rights. 

*Of mind-blowing clitoral orgasms.  

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