Should the demi-god Dionysius ever show up, I would hope he would be as charismatic as Diane (Kelli Simpkins). Madeleine George’s modern-day Greek comedy “Hurricane Diane” could not have come at a better time. Director Jeremy Wechsler says before the show that this production was a multi-year process—who knew the timing would be so on point? Just days after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, I, for one, would welcome our queer, magnanimous, Dionysian overlord.
Set where anyone would imagine a Greek comedy—New Jersey—Diane arrives at a cul-de-sac to build herself a quartet of acolytes. In playing to the ladies’ better natures (to better Mother Nature), Diane is a fierce human to reckon 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 delightful. Their charms and monologues could put even the best of us into a tizzy. Someone resurrect Sondheim’s “The Frogs” and give Dionysius to Simpkins, STAT. Save our souls (and our planet), Diane!
Each role makes this show seem to be a lot of fun to be part of. Each of the four neighbors has their own quirks Diane must contend with. Pam Annunziata, for example, is the quintessential New Jerseyian housewife-Fran Drescher persona which Lori Myers captures to a T. Meanwhile, Aneisa Hicks as Beth Wann brings an endearing quality to her character’s particular brand of nervousness while Carolyn Kruse (as Carol Fleischer) and Jazmin Corona (as Renee Shapiro-Epps) balance one another out as only Marc Cherry could hope for.
What makes Theater Wit’s production all the more captivating are the myriad ways they’ve found to differentiate the cul-de-sac’s cookie-cutter homes without switching the sets. Characters allude to their homes being the same to guide audiences into these smooth 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 home you’re in as well as give insight into the woman’s demeanor. Whether those minor changes are in George’s script or a production choice is unknown to me. Either way, it’s an excellent nod to the show’s overarching theme of sameness being the death of our planet.
Reading the synopsis of this play could easily make a potential audience member question whether or not they want to go. Is it going to be like “An Inconvenient Truth”? Will it be a ninety-minute slog pushing us further into our deep existential dread? I’m here to promise you neither 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 (clothes on, please) to frolic amongst the Hazelnuts, Mulberries and Hops if only to forget that the world is rife with Fiddleheads.
“Hurricane Diane” at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont, theaterwit.org. Through August 14. $25-$36.