‘Hurricane Diane’ fuses classics, climate change, comedy

L-R, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, Stacy Ross (center), Luisa Sermol, Rebecca Schweitzer (background) and Gianna DiGregorio Rivera are terrific in "Hurricane Diane" onstage at Aurora Theatre Co. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

The premise of award-winning playwright Madeleine George’s “Hurricane Diane” sounds wacky: The Greek god Dionysus, in the form of a lesbian gardener, seduces four New Jersey suburbanites in efforts to save Earth from ecological disaster.  

Aurora Theatre Co.’s production of the comedy onstage in Berkeley through July 16 is indeed hilarious.  

Stacy Ross plays a Greek god taking on the identity of a lesbian landscaper in the delightful “Hurricane Diane” at Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

Director Jennifer King and five feisty actors make the utmost of George’s pithy, witty, provocative script. But it’s not simply as funny as the smartest sitcom. It also offers plentiful food for thought about negligence and consumption in the face of climate change and impending devastation as well as the fickleness and complexities of human behavior, psyche and sexuality.  

Stacy Ross is snappy and sexy as the god on mission to right the universe. At the outset, she swoops in (amusingly, to “Also sprach Zarathustra,” the famous “2001: A Space Odyssey” theme) and explains her comeback. Once she acquires four women as her acolytes, all will be well with the environment. She changes out of her tunic and into overalls, becoming Diane, a permaculture expert providing service to the cul-de-sac ladies’ landscapes.      

With their fun and friendly coffee klatch musings, the women are imminently relatable, and sympathetically portrayed with nuance by a great cast.  

Carol, a fan of HGTV magazine and the first to meet Diane, eagerly anticipates a new garden design. But her enthusiasm fades when Diane not only rejects her requests for a wrought-iron bench and curb appeal, but hits on her. Rebecca Schweitzer convincingly plays her with steely resolution.  

Renee, an editor at the HGTV publication, is proud of being a successful woman of color in a competitive industry. Open to Diane’s landscaping suggestions, she even entertains the idea of a revolutionary magazine spread defying HGTV convention. Leontyne Mbele-Mbong plays her with grace and style.  

Beth, who’s in a failing marriage, is the first to succumb to Diane’s charms. Gianna DiGregorio Rivera’s portrayal nicely mixes eagerness, naivety and passion.

L-R, Stacy Ross and Rebecca Schweitzer appear in Madeleine George’s “Hurricane Diane.” (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Perhaps the funniest is Pam, the quintessential brassy New Jersey housewife with the full-on accent, wrap dress in leopard print and yearning for a garden design reminiscent of an Italian palazzo. Luisa Sermol is perfectly fast-talking and brutally honest.  

Brooke Jennings’ costumes nicely complement and illustrate the contrasting characters, while effective design by Kurt Landisman (lights) and Lana Plamer (sound) delightfully bring to life the power of a mythological god.  

With origins in the classics—playwright George has called it a sequel to Euripides’ tragedy “The Bacchae”—“Hurricane Diane” may offer special treats for historians and scholars. At the same time, it’s a riot for anyone going to the theater in search of a meaningful story and plenty of laughs.  

“Hurricane Diane” continues through July 16 at Aurora Theatre Co., 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, as well as streams July 11-16. Tickets are $20-$75 at (510) 843-4811 or www.auroratheatre.org.  

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