If the demigod Dionysius ever shows up, I’d hope he’s as charismatic as Diane (Kelli Simpkins). Madeleine George’s modern Greek comedy, Hurricane Diane, couldn’t have come at a better time. Ahead of the show, director Jeremy Wechsler says this production was a multi-year process — who knew the timing would be so spot on? Just days after the fall of Roe v. Wade, for my part, I would welcome our strange, magnanimous, Dionysian overlord.
In a place where anyone would imagine a Greek comedy – New Jersey – Diane hits a dead end to set up a quartet of acolytes. Playing with the better nature of ladies (to the better of Mother Nature), Diane is a fierce individual to be reckoned with. Anyone would have a hard time saying no to a permaculture lawn curated by Diane—who could say no to the Pawpaw Tree? Simpkins as Diane is beyond adorable. Her charm and monologues could get even the best of us excited. Someone resurrects Sondheim’s The Frogs and gives Dionysius to Simpkins, STAT. Save our souls (and our planet), Diane!
Each role makes this show a lot of fun to be a part of. Each of the four neighbors has their own quirks that Diane struggles with. Pam Annunziata, for example, is the quintessential New Jersey housewife-Fran Drescher personality, which Lori Myers captures perfectly. Meanwhile, Aneisa Hicks as Beth Wann brings an endearing quality to her character’s edginess, while Carolyn Kruse (as Carol Fleischer) and Jazmin Corona (as Renee Shapiro-Epps) balance each other as only Marc Cherry could hope.
What makes Theater Wit’s production all the more compelling are the myriad ways they found to differentiate Dead End’s cookie-cutter houses without changing sets. Characters allude to their homes being the same to guide the audience into these fluid transitions. Keep an eye on the side table to the right of the French doors. The flowers on the table give you an idea of whose house you are in and give some insight into the woman’s behavior. Whether these minor changes are due to George’s script or a production decision I don’t know. Either way, it’s an excellent nod to the show’s overarching theme that equality is the death of our planet.
Reading the synopsis of this piece could easily make a potential viewer wonder whether they want to go or not. Will it be like “An Inconvenient Truth”? Will it be a ninety-minute drudgery that pushes us further into our deep existential angst? I’m here to promise you that no one could be further from this production. Somehow, the heartbreak of our climate crisis meets catharsis in “Hurricane Diane.” We can step into a Bacchian garden (dressed, please) to frolic among hazelnuts, mulberries and hops, forgetting that the world is full of fiddleheads.
“Hurricane Diane” at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont, theaterwit.org. Until July 31st. $25-$36.