What happens when a butch lesbian god seduces a crew of suburban New Jersey housewives into restoring Earth to its natural state? Pure theatrical mayhem.
Carbondale’s Thunder River Theatre Co. takes on this comedic whirlwind, presenting its mainstage production of “Hurricane Diane” to kick off the 2022-2023 season.
The show opened on Friday and will continue through Oct. 16 for a three-weekend run, with showtimes scheduled Thursdays-Sundays. Tonight’s performance starts at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday’s at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35 (advocate options available) and can be purchased through the TRTC website.
Written by Pulitzer Prize-finalist Madeleine George, “Hurricane Diane” tells the tale of Greek god Dionysus’ return to the modern world on a quest to gather mortal followers and restore Earth’s environment. Disguised as a butch-sensual permaculture gardener by the name of Diane, the modern-day god descends upon a cul-de-sac in New Jersey, where her mission begins with four suburban housewives.
TRTC’s undertaking of “Hurricane Diane” was directed by Beth Malone, who first saw the unconventional comedy at its New York Theatre Workshop premiere in 2019. Captivated by the play’s humorous plot and left contemplating its unshakable themes, Malone — herself, a Tony Award-nominated Broadway actor — fell in love with “Hurricane Diane” at first sight, said TRTC Executive Director Sean Jeffries.
Malone had pitched the production to TRTC several years back and it was unable to happen due to COVID-19, explained Jeffries — who recalled his first reading of the script as one filled with laughter.
“It’s rare you get a script that’s so inherently funny on the page and also has these larger human themes incorporated throughout the entire story,” Jeffries said. “It’s a show that leaps off the page.”
When it comes to TRTC’s “Hurricane Diane,” Jeffries credited the play’s vibrant leap to the stage to Malone’s direction and the show’s talented five-woman cast. Each actor takes on her character brilliantly, he said.
“Each character has their own game, their own personality,” Jeffries said. “And everyone does so well at keeping the calm and rhythmic normalcy of the play’s first 60 minutes …Then it just goes off the rails.”
The executive director went on to explain how the show’s detailed characterization and derailing plotline is even more so enhanced through theatrical elements, like costuming and set design.
Audience members may recognize a few of the play’s performers from the valley’s local theater scene, including TRTC Artistic Director Missy Moore playing the role of house wife Pam and Executive Director of Sol Theatre Co. Jennifer Johnson, seen as Renee.
Actress Julia Whalen (Beth) is a newcomer to the Roaring Fork Valley and has performed with both the Sopris Theatre Company and Aspen Community Theatre. “Hurricane Diane” marks Whalen’s TRTC debut. New York-based equity actor Traci Bair joins the team of female talent as the final Jersey housewife character, Carol.
Playing Diane is Susannah McLeod, who embodies the modern-day Dionysus role wholeheartedly by bringing butch realness to the character.
Jeffries mentioned that both McLeod and Malone identify as lesbians and that it was important to everyone on the board of TRTC’s “Hurricane Diane” production that there was authentic representation from the lesbian community.
“We wanted to make sure that we had natural lesbian voices in the show. It wouldn’t have read as well if we didn’t,” Jeffries said. “And we did not want someone playing Diane who didn’t represent that community — it would’ve been an improper voice.”
In a TRTC announcement, Malone expressed this importance of gender-identity representation, stating that authentically representing the “butch-charm factory” of Diane’s character was crucial in the casting process.
“Susannah McLeod sent me an audition tape, and I was like, yep, her,” Malone said.
Malone described “Hurricane Diane” as a piece that “asks big questions of all of us who are Americans, who are pretty spoiled and want what we want,” she said in the announcement.
“It makes you think without putting you on the defensive,” the director commented. “It just kind of lets you ask those big questions of yourself and each other, all the while just laughing your ass off.”
A play drenched in humor and human-stirring messages, TRTC’s “Hurricane Diane” looks to bring audiences to the edge of their seats in laughter and then leave the theater in a reflective state.
“I want people to laugh their faces off at this show,” Jeffries said. “But I also hope the themes of restoration and environmentally centric thinking are pervasive enough that people leave wanting to help improve the overall situation of our planet in their day-to-day lives.”
And the theater company puts its money where its mouth is in terms of the show’s environmental messaging. Malone emphasized in the release that TRTC’s “Hurricane Diane” is a zero-plastic production.
“We have never brought a single-use plastic container onto the grounds during the rehearsal of this thing. [Audiences] can feel good about buying that ticket, supporting the very thing we’re discussing,” Malone said. “I feel like hope is something [the play] can inspire, and I hope that it does.”
For more information on TRTC’s mainstage season or to purchase tickets to “Hurricane Diane,” visit thunderrivertheatre.com.