Rami Margron (left) and Opal Alladin in "Hurricane Diane." Photo by Jim Cox
There are two ways to look at Madeleine George's "Hurricane Diane": one, as a keenly crafted commentary on the ecological and environmental neglect we've done to our planet and the need for enlightened, responsible solutions -- all wrapped in a fantastical comedy; the other, as an absurdist spoof of Greek mythology, suburban-housewife angst and upward mobility -- played for laughs at full-throated volume.
As with most things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but "Hurricane Diane" lists heavily toward the latter interpretation. Its West Coast premiere inside the Old Globe's cozy Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre seems to opt for freeze-frame one-liners and comic physicality over the imparting of any sobering messages. Climate-change backdrop or not, there's more "Real Housewives of New Jersey" here than "An Inconvenient Truth."
If opening night at the White was any indication, the choice to go this route, whether dictated by George's script or James Vasquez's diretion, was a wise one. Throughout all the sight gags and uttered innuendo, a significant number of audience members could be heard exhorting the characters and "Yessing!" their approval. Whether "Hurricane Diane's" messaging sank in over the 90 minutes is an open question.
Though not for me.
In spite of the lecturing from the main character, Greek god Dionysus-turned-butch-gardener Diane, about permaculture and ecosystemming, what struck and stayed with me were the comic turns of the five actors onstage. Frankly, least of all that of Rami Margron as Diane, who strutted and raged but didn't convincingly portray an otherworldly empowered seductress.
The story finds Diane, in her would-be seduction of these unhappy, wine-sipping housewives, scheming to recruit them as acolytes and in the process reinvigorate the neglected physical world. One at a time she pursues them: Beth (Jennifer Paredes), a decidedly unhappy sort; Renee (Opal Alladin), editor of HGTV Magazine and openly bisexual; Carol (Liz Wisan), a smart but materialistic businesswoman; and Pam (Jenn Harris), who dresses sexy and cracks wise like few have ever cracked wise. All are mired in unfulfilling marriages except poor Beth, who's already been abandoned in hers.
Diane's seductions are not very artful, yet all but one succeeds -- the details of that I won't spoil, for the circumstances constitute the most dramatic and spectacular sequence of the show.
The housewife actors (and yes, this is set in New Jersey) give it their absolute all, especially Harris in the juiciest role of Pam. Wisan is, like her character, more subtle and much more interesting. Alladin and Paredes blossom fully late in the going when they've become Diane's acolytes, physically and sartorially. How you'll feel about the musical numbers they perform is anyone's guess.
Bottom line: Greek mythology was never like this.
"Hurricane Diane" runs through March 8 in the Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat