By JEAN LOWERISON | Uptown News
Being a demigod used to be a great gig. You could sit up there on Mt. Olympus, drinking and talking with the other deities, and when you descended to earth you’d get recognition, gifts, even adoration from the mortals down below.
But time went by, and things changed. Even gods changed, at least in form. But that’s nothing compared to the horrifying changes wrought by the human species, which at this juncture seems hellbent on ruining the world itself with mining, stripping, slashing and burning in search of that ghastly oil and gas.
In “Hurricane Diane,” playwright Madeleine George takes a hilarious look at what might happen if Dionysus, demigod of agriculture, wine and song, came back to earth today. James Vásquez directs the 90-minute play — in its West Coast premiere — which runs through March 8 at The Old Globe’s White Theatre.
This time, the god’s name is Diane (Remi Margron, who plays Diane, uses they/them pronouns), and they’re a lesbian landscape gardener trying to pass the word on saving the environment to a quartet of bored housewives who live in identical houses in a Red Bank, New Jersey cul-de-sac.
Carol Fleischer (Liz Wisan), who works in the compliance division of a big pharma, is a lot less interested in permaculture and maintaining a natural ecosystem than she is in preserving the salability of her property. When Carol expresses her main wish – a wrought-iron accent bench – and a desire to achieve “curb appeal,” Diane knows the campaign to return the property to its lawn-free near-natural condition as a primeval forest will be a tough one.
Renee Shapiro-Epps (Opal Alladin), on the other hand, an editor at HGTV Magazine, has somewhat more sympathy with Diane’s plan because she lived on a hippie-like permaculture commune back in the day. She seems to have squashed most of those hippie tendencies.
Italian American Pam Annunziata (Jenn Harris) is a case unto herself. She prowls around, catlike in leopard-print gear and a demanding attitude. She’s not especially happily married but insists that she and her husband “do it” every day “just so I don’t hate his guts.”
Beth Wann (Jennifer Paredes), youngest of the quartet, has the shy diffidence of someone who’s been deserted. Her husband left her, and she’s looking to make a connection.
Diane’s problem is to win these women over, to make them want to make efforts to save the environment. Will it happen? I’ll let you find that out for yourself. I’m here to tell you about the journey.
There’s probably nothing an environmentalist hates more than women addicted to HGTV and its magazine. HGTV addicts look at pretty pictures in the magazine and decide that’s what they want. But what Diane wants them to want is raw nature, rather like the raw vocabulary stuffed with F-bombs that comes out of Diane’s mouth. Diane talks about hognut and bee balm, foxglove and milk vetch. Carol wants a wrought-iron accent bench. How can this work?
The answer is with a lot of dialogue that may be reminiscent of certain TV talk shows, and the playwright keeps us laughing with a script full of clever jabs and one-liners. If there’s not a lot of depth, well, that’s who these women are.
Margron carries the heavy lift of trying to bring these women around to a reasonable environmentalist point of view with great verve, dedication and the magic only a demigod has. They’re a pleasure to watch in action.
Jo Winiarski’s set – a spiffy-looking if cookie-cutter kitchen in New Jersey – serves the purpose well. Shirley Pierson’s costumes (especially for Pam) are spot-on. Lighting and sound are well handled by Cat Tate Starmer and Drew Levy respectively, and local folk-rock band Golden Howl provides original music.
The 90-minute engagement we have with these folks is long on talk, short on action, but this is the life they live. Just know that the talk is fun, often funny and sometimes raunchy, and if you leave the theater thinking just a little bit more about saving the planet than you did when you entered, the playwright has done her job.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.