Thunder River Theatre Company opens season with ‘Hurricane Diane’
‘Hurricane Diane’ uses comedy to make a point
Special to The Aspen Times
A play that encourages you to ponder existential questions while still making you laugh? Now, that’s entertainment value. Thunder River Theatre Company has opened its 2022-23 season with “Hurricane Diane,” which takes a humorous approach to pointing out the blind eye many of us take toward climate change.
Deep into the 11th hour, Dionysus descends upon Earth as a suburban landscaper. But, her agenda is a bit at odds with her housewife’s clients. Where they imagine a small garden with a fountain, this god (named Diane, for short) wants to restore the entire continent. With a storm about to hit the Jersey Shore, salvation lies in Diane’s power to draw mortals into her pursuit to undo the damage modern lifestyles have created.
The play is a huge undertaking, both logistically and existentially, said Director Beth Malone.
“It’s a piece that asks really big questions of all of us who are Americans, who are pretty spoiled and want what we want, and it does it in this really smart and hilarious way,” she said. “So, it makes you think without putting you on the defensive — it just kind of lets you ask those big questions of yourself and each other, all the while just laughing your a** off.”
The Tony-award-nominated Broadway actor has high standards when it comes to casting, and this production is no different. Her five-woman cast features high-achieving actresses, both familiar and new to the community.
Missy Moore (the company’s artistic director) and Jennifer Johnson return to Roaring Fork Valley theater in this production. Johnson is about to make Thunder River the home of her children’s theater, Stage of Life Theatre Co., which will provide a consistent rehearsal and performance space for the myriad students her organization serves.
Julia Whalen makes her local debut in Carbondale — though she did play Marta in Aspen Community Theatre’s production, “Company.” Malone said Whalen’s audition blew her away.
“I came to the end of her audition and was like, ‘Who the hell was that?’” Malone said. “Every night, she brings it. She surprises me at every turn. It’s like she doesn’t know how to be bad. It’s wild.”
Malone also scored with Traci Bair, a New York-based Equity who just happened to be visiting her brother in the valley during auditions. She hasn’t performed since the pandemic hit, so she chose the smaller, more intimate community of Carbondale to return to the stage.
“She wanted to do it in a safe, loving environment. She has a small baby, so she’s just enjoying everything you can do in this valley and going to do a play at night with top, professional-caliber theater making in the middle of Carbondale,” Malone said.
Susannah McLeod rounds out the cast with her titular character, Diane, “the butch-sensual, modern-day embodiment of the Greek god, Dionysus.”
Though Dionysus is probably best known as the god of wine, pleasure and madness, she also rules over fruit (including orchards) and vegetation. She shows up in “Hurricane Diane” as “a permaculture gardener with enough supernatural pistils to seduce four New Jersey suburbanites into restoring the Earth to its natural state,” one cul-de-sac at a time.
McLeod brings “butch realness to our Diane,” Malone said. “It was really important that we authentically represent this butch-charm factory that Diane (is). She’s a god, so she has to be shiny, special. Susannah McLeod sent me an audition tape, and I was like, ‘Yep, her.’”
Moore has previously worked with McLeod at the Aurora Fox Arts Center and knew she’d fit the part.
“She is a heart with legs, so she attracts the best people to her because everybody who works with her wants to work with her again and again,” Moore said. “She (assembled) a design team that is as good as any you’ll see in the state right now.”
She said it’s been challenging to coordinate the schedules of all the powerhouse women, but the result has been fantastic.
“It’s incredible to be at the helm of people who are doing really courageous work — they’re pushing themselves — physically, emotionally,” Malone said. “They are challenging themselves at every corner in this process.”
The entire crew has committed to an environmentally friendly production since, after all, that’s what the play’s messaging revolves around. They created most of the set through a kitchen remodel, using minimal new lumber. Thunder River intends this to be a zero-plastic production. No single-use plastic water bottles will be sold at the concession stand (boxed water only), and, during rehearsals, no one brought a single-use plastic container onto the grounds, Malone said.
“(Audiences) can feel good about buying that ticket, supporting the very thing we’re discussing,” she said. “I feel like hope is something the play can inspire, and I hope that it does.”
What: ‘Hurricane Diane’
When: Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 16
Where: Thunder River Theatre Company, Carbondale
Tickets: $35 (pay-what-you-can options are available)
More info: thunderrivertheatre.com or 970.963.8200