Four women — two sitting on the ground and two on one knee — with hands splayed, anguished looks all in different directions and messy hair. Another person is in the background
Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, Stacy Ross, Luisa Sermol, Rebecca Schweitzer (background), and Gianna DiGregorio Rivera in Madeleine George’s Hurricane Diane. Credit: Kevin Berne

As explained at the start of the clever and creative Hurricane Diane, Dionysus, the demigod of agriculture, wine, and song, can no longer observe from the sidelines the climate clock ticking toward midnight and the earth’s destruction.

So, Dionysus comes out of eons of retirement in the human form of Diane, a gay permaculture gardener, late of Vermont. Diane (Stacy Ross, Bull in a China Shop) homes in on a particular cul-de-sac in suburban Monmouth County, New Jersey, the site of recent storms and floods, hoping to replace the prevalent manicured sod lawns with pawpaw, milk vetch, and ash trees — more forest, no curbs. But what else does she have in mind?

As Diane tries to tempt this funny, sad set of four neighbors and friends to think beyond their identical pristine lawns, we meet “the girls” (as they call themselves). Playwright Madeleine George (a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist for The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence), shines in creating the wine-fueled repartee among the group. Her first-rate writing for Hulu’s comedy Only Murders in the Building is apparent here.

The first homeowner we meet, Carol (Rebecca Schweitzer (Wives, Bull in a China Shop), works in “compliance” for a scandal-ridden company. Although a rigid, unhappy woman, she dreams of a garden decorated with accent colors and wrought iron benches that she clipped out of HGTV magazine.

Beth (Gianna DiGregorio Rivera, The Importance of Being Earnest) has been distraught since her husband mysteriously left. She doesn’t have the energy to dress fashionably or mow her yard, much to the chagrin of her friends. She longs for a magical fairy garden — appropriate, considering her current unhappy circumstances.

Renee (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong (Cyrano, Bull in a China Shop)) is a successful, sophisticated editor at HGTV magazine. As the first editor of color, she worries that she has sold her soul to make it in the corporate hierarchy.

Three women at a kitchen island chatting.
Luisa Sermol, Gianna DiGregorio Rivera and Rebecca Schweitzer in Madeleine George’s Hurricane Diane. Credit: Kevin Berne

Always clad in a tight leopard-skinned patterned dress, Pam (Luisa Sermol), “full-blood Italian, both sides,” is a doomsday-prep freak with a warm heart and a smart mouth right out of The Sopranos. She is the best-developed character of the four girls. Don’t miss her down-to-earth philosophy about sex with her husband. Pam’s dream garden is the “Mediterranean palazzo” she’s seen in a painting on the wall at the local Italian deli.

Is Diane there to capture their backyards or their souls? The plot of playwright Madeleine George’s 2019 Hurricane Diane goes a bit awry as Diane assumes her godlike appearance and wins over the girls (or most of them). They dance and debauch with bacchanalian fervor as the climate clock approaches midnight and storms approach. Hurricane Diane is an entertaining social commentary and a call to action.

Jennifer King’s direction (Dry Powder) works well. The performances of the five actors are first-rate. As Diane, however, Stacy Ross’s performance is a bit subdued, sometimes sardonic, or even a bit snarky, and veers towards monotonal. Hurricane Diane is a perfect fit for the intimate Aurora stage since the only stage set is one kitchen island backed by French doors (Kate Boyd, Scenic Designer). Since all four houses are identical, the one set works perfectly.

This production is the last one of Aurora’s 2022/2023 season. The new season begins in September with Liz Duffy Adams’ Born With Teeth, a “feisty, sexy, and dangerous play that pits” a young William Shakespeare against the marvelous Christopher Marlowe. I can’t wait.  

Live performances of Hurricane Diane at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre run through July 16, 2023. The play is 95 minutes long, with no intermission. Mask-wearing is required. Tickets are $33-$75. Streaming performances, July 11-16, are each available for 36 hours. There is a special LGBTQIA+ Affinity Night on June 30, with food and beverages, $30 tickets with code PRIDE30. For information and tickets, visit the Aurora website or call 510-843-4822.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...