Metro Weekly

‘Hurricane Diane’ Review: Suburban Bacchanal

Avant Bard brings Madeleine George’s deviously clever, funny, and ultimately humanity-damning play to uproariously roaring life.

Hurricane Diane - Photo: DJ Corey
Hurricane Diane – Photo: DJ Corey

As the region’s major theaters rebound from the dark nights of the pandemic, it’s nothing short of miraculous that its fringe scene — under-recognized and under-funded at the best of times — has found a way to keep the curtains rising.

Operating on a wing and a prayer, these tiny theater troupes may be labors of semi-volunteer love, but they are, without doubt, the crazy, tinkling bells that keep a city’s culture alive, vibrant and just a whole lot more fun to explore. And frankly, if any town needs a healthy alternative scene, it’s Washington, D.C.

Front and center is Avant Bard, which has been delivering all manner of edgy, classical — and sometimes utterly bonkers (in a good way) — theater since 1990, when it began life as the Washington Shakespeare Company. This little company is the real “downtown” deal, and yet still too many people haven’t quite heard of it or don’t quite know whether they are willing to plug a middle school theater space into their GPS.

But if you see one more show as this post-COVID season comes to a close, make it their production of Madeleine George’s Hurricane Diane (★★★★☆), and get a sense of just how fun, talented, and high-energy this company can be. Right out of the box, they deserve kudos for choosing this deviously clever, funny, and ultimately humanity-damning play.

George, a Pultizer Prize-nominee and one of the writers on Only Murders in the Building, sets the action in a New Jersey suburb of McMansions where the ancient Greek demi-God Dionysus has pitched up to try and heal the Earth.

Taking the identity of Diane, a butch permaculture gardener, she must win over four female acolytes if she is to generate the power she needs to return ecological health and verdancy to our ailing planet. The comedy comes when Diane sets her sites on the suburban women in their cul-de-sac of coffee mornings and lawns as boring and indifferent as their husbands.

Hurricane Diane - Photo: DJ Corey
Hurricane Diane – Photo: DJ Corey

There are two seminal roles here, the first being, of course, Diana. Caro Dubberly absolutely owns this force of nature, bringing an ideal combination of charisma, ebullience, and the ability to do irony without ever losing their warmth.

It’s not the easiest performance to carry off in an intimate space — how, for example, do you make a grand entrance? — but Dubberly and director Stevie Zimmerman use it to their advantage: when Diane breaks the fourth wall, they are so damn conversational, it just makes them feel all the more touchable and real.

George leaves plenty of room for interpretation here and another thing Dubberly masters is the way this Diane listens, which is surely at the heart of the best seductions. Of course, a fascinating aspect of Hurricane Diane is just what kind of seduction this is. It might be sexual, but the stronger, more metaphorical view is that she is actually subsuming her subjects back into their natural organic state. If it comes with the enthusiastic embrace of a demi-God, so be it.

The toughest nut to crack, and also the most iconic in her own way, is the rather brittle Carol, a woman who may cling to the trappings of suburban life, but also always knows what to say to move a conversation along. Jenna Berk does a subtly stellar job, brilliantly capturing the aggressive certainty (and comedy) of Carol’s upper-middle class life and career, but also her well-tamped neuroticism.

George has something to say about this tortured but powerful psyche and all that she represents, and Berk skillfully embodies her evolving message (with the help of some excellent lighting design by Hailey LaRoe and sound by Delaney Bray). Without giving anything away, getting Carol right requires a sophisticated blend of the comic and the ominous and the team really gets it right.

If Dubberly and Berk mostly, if not quite always, get George’s snappy repartee to flow, the rest of the cast bring much entertainment and give genuine life to their own potent points of view. Alyssa Sanders’ Pam is pitched perfectly with her in-your-face New Jersey style, but also her dimension as a real person moving through the world. You know an actor hits the mark when you feel as though their character is still walking around somewhere long after the lights come up.

As the accomplished Renee, Lolita Marie cuts a convincing figure and does a good job of delivering George’s message on how a certain American demographic has become its own unstoppable force. If her backstory of a far more bohemian life is harder to believe, it’s on George for not giving Renee a bit more depth.

Finally, Diane Cooper-Gould initially feels a little over-gilded as divorcee Beth, but quickly becomes convincing as the person most open to the release — and relief — of the appealing newcomer.

Is there a simple set? Without doubt. But scenic consultant Sarah Beth Hall nevertheless succeeds in evoking the mood. Could some of the performances and interactions be further polished? Sure. But the way Zimmerman and this ensemble go from zero to sixty across the arc of this play is nothing short of amazing.

Hurricane Diane - Photo: DJ Corey
Hurricane Diane – Photo: DJ Corey

The truth is: from such humble realities come some of the most imaginative, uncomfortable, and feisty comments on life — the stuff we really can’t do without. Put simply, Diane and her fateful message are right up there with the most fun, interesting, and thoughtful experiences you are likely to have on a folding chair. Book yours before it’s too late — for the play and the planet.

Hurricane Diane runs through June 10 at Avant Bard Theatre, Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two, 2700 S Lang Street in Arlington, Va. General admission seating. Tickets are $40, or $20 for students and veterans.

Pay What You Can performances at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 3 and 10.

Call 703-418-4808 or visit

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