FF2 Guest post by Megan Hennessey
Before the pandemic, I struggled to find American theaters that recorded their productions and made them available online. I wanted to watch plays coming out of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles without having to book a plane ticket and hotel room. (While I am aware of BroadwayHD, a streaming service that brings Broadway productions to you with the ease of your latest Netflix movie, I haven’t explored it further. My brain and bank account can only handle so many streaming services.) Yes, we’ve had Grease, Peter Pan, and Rent broadcast live for audiences, but the results have been mixed at best. Yet, across the pond in London, the National Theater (NT) has been recording and broadcasting shows for years. When the pandemic hit, I was able to watch a full production — not a Zoom one — of The Barbershop Chronicles from my living room couch. The theater had recorded a live performance using multiple cameras, uploading the results to their YouTube channel. I’ve been hunting for experiences that mimic my NT Live experience: real theater, recorded and brought to a screen near me.
Hurricane Diane, a recent production from Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, delivers. While the Huntington is now open to the public for performances, it also recorded a performance of Hurricane Diane from its opening week. Buying a ticket for the online experience was effortless. A few minutes after I completed my order, the link to the recording appeared in my inbox. I clicked through on my laptop, which I had perched in front of my couch. When the intro music started, I settled deeper into the couch with gleeful anticipation.
While The Huntington is known for its fantastic sets, this one is pleasantly understated; a kitchen island stands sentinel in the middle of the stage. Ten cameras capture Diane, a queer reincarnation of the Greek god Dionysus, as she speaks to the audience. Her hot pink breastplate glints off the stage lights. She’s on a mission to stop the world from burning so there will still be a world full of people who can worship her. She lays out her plan: Instead of telling people she’s a demigod, she has made herself into a landscape designer. She ditches the breastplate to reveal her outfit. Towering in her lace-up boots and forest green jumpsuit, she stands out among the stiff, uptight women in the neighborhood.
“Diane” (played by Rami Margron) first meets Carol, a perfectly primped blonde. Carol, wearing pearls and pristine white clothing with pleats you can cut yourself on, has a smile frozen in place. It’s a look I’ve seen before: She is one unmowed lawn away from flipping a table. All her ideas for her yard come from HGTV magazine; each magazine cutting slots neatly into an accordion folder. She wants to create the backyard of her dreams without actually being in it. All of her ideas are geared towards buzz words anyone who has watched HGTV will recognize: resale value, curb appeal.
Diane’s disgust at curb appeal garners a laugh from the audience. Instead of curb appeal, Diane wants to create a luscious green space teeming with cherry trees, blueberry bushes and paw-paw trees. Diane lays out a future full of lush greenery where Carol can unwind and explore. She leans on the kitchen island and, it turns out, this demigod is a masterful flirt. The longer they talk, the more Carol leans towards the future Diane paints. But some failsafe goes off, some internal mechanism kicks in that makes her pause. I also recognize that look: the moment when someone recognizes that the thing they want will cause a stir — so they shut it down.
When telling “the girls” from the neighborhood about Diane, Carol bemoans Diane and swears she was hit on. Renee (wearing flowier clothing with darker earth tones), knows a dog whistle when she hears it. No doubt she has heard something like Carol’s gay panic before. Beth, dealing with the fallout of her husband walking out on her, reacts similarly to Carol’s judgment. But Beth is not like the rest of the women in the group. Her eyes are wide, her energy manic. When the other women talk about her, they shake their heads with a combination of pity, fear, and disgust. Thank god we’re not like her.
This script — by playwright Madeleine George — is full of layers. When the ladies talk about Diane, they’re not just talking about landscaping. They’re also talking about queerness and otherness. After a lusty embrace with Diane, Beth reappears on stage. She’s calmer, more grounded. She wanted to marry her husband, she explains, so she could stop herself from — the phrase hangs in the air. It’s easy to fill in the rest. When Renee talks to Diane about creating a natural space, there’s a feeling of letting go of a breath she’s been holding in. She’s tired of pushing for progressive ideas to a group of women who don’t want to hear it. Diane nods in understanding.
As the play continues, the women become Diane’s acolytes. Except for one — Carol. Without her, Diane can’t start the process that will heal the Earth. Diane tries one last time to get Carol to help her by appealing to all of her options: You can change something. You can choose differently. It doesn’t have to be like this.
But Carol won’t hear it. Why should she give up any of her comforts? That white pleated clothing, drenched in cool blue stage light, becomes menacing. Her frozen smile disappears. All that’s left is bottled rage. She’s drowning in a dead marriage and a job that has sucked her soul dry. She’s not moving. This is where all the details that we got in the beginning of the play fuse together. Here is Carol, the person with the power and money to make a change. Instead, she asks, What’s in it for me?
Her selfishness breaks Diane. Who would choose their own comfort over healing the world? Lost, lip trembling, Diane turns back to the audience. Fine, she says. If you want your world to burn, then who am I to stop you? The roaring of an oncoming hurricane fills the stage after she leaves. Here was someone who wanted to help, but we let walk away.
Director Jenny Koons and her cast pack a punch in 90 minutes. Brava!
Hurricane Diane is playing August 27 – September 26, 2021 at The Huntington Calderwood. Online viewing is available until October 10th. Tickets are available at huntingtontheatre.org.
© Megan Hennessey (9/23/21) Special for FF2 Media.com.
CREDITS AND PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Rami Margron (center) as “Diane,” with Esme Allen in The Huntington’s production of Hurricane Diane, playing August 27 – September 26, 2021 at The Huntington Calderwood/BCA. Photo: T Charles Erickson.
Bottom Photo of Cast Ensemble = Esme Allen, Marianna Bassham, Jennifer Bubriski, Rami Margron & Kris Sidberry (named in alphabetical order).
Images downloaded from The Huntington’s Press Site: https://www.huntingtontheatre.org/news/photo-library/2021-2022/hurricane-diane/