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The “Cat 5 Comedy” by Rivenbark and Kevin Parker starts a six-week dinner theater run at TheatreNOW in Wilmington on May 24.
Are we ready to laugh about Hurricane Florence yet?
The destructive, marathon storm hit Southeastern North Carolina more than eight months ago. And while it caused plenty of misery, no one who endured Florence’s worn-out welcome can deny, in retrospect, that she spawned a few funny situations as well.
Mining our collective storm stories for laughs is the goal of the play “This Hurricane Blows: A Cat 5 Comedy” by Celia Rivenbark and Kevin Parker, which opens as dinner theater Friday, May 24, at TheatreNOW and runs weekends through June 29. James Bowling directs.
For Rivenbark, the longtime humor columnist, book author and Wilmington resident, it’s her sixth dinner-theater show in six years for TheatreNOW. Parker, a Corning engineer who’s also Rivenbark’s longtime friend, joined her in writing last year’s hit, “Southern Fried Bitch,” about a cooking show host with a sunny on-screen persona and an R-rated mouth behind the scenes.
Invited back to pen another comedy for 2019, the writing duo soon settled on Hurricane Florence as fodder. January might’ve been “too soon” to stage the show, Rivenbark and Parker acknowledged during an interview on her Wilmington porch early Tuesday evening. But we’ve now got enough distance from the storm to be able to laugh about it, they said. Even so, they didn’t want to wait to stage it until the heart of hurricane season, either, when any storms lurking on the horizon would likely dampen any hilarity.
“Hurricanes are not funny,” Parker said. “Hurricanes are horrible.”
And he would know, as his home in North Chase in northern New Hanover County sustained severe damage from the storm, although not as severe as some of the other homes in North Chase, Parker was quick to point out. As for being funny, however, the people in the hurricanes are a different story.
“This Hurricane Blows” focuses on two families, one longtime Southerners, the other new transplants from the North, forced to ride out the storm together. At one point, the Southern family asks the Northern group if they’re prepared.
“We’re ready,” the Yankees say, holding up a flashlight.
Jokes are also made about locals viewing Category 1 hurricanes, which Florence was, with dismissal. One character, for example, “has been known to mow his grass during a Category 2.”
Ron Hasson and Paula Davis play Southern couple Tweeter and Kimmysue Holden, while Joe Renton, Lupin Byers and Michelle Reiff are their new Northern neighbors, the D’Milos. (Kent West and Lynette O’Callaghan play various roles, such as the shady tree contractors who were out before the hurricane even ended.)
Despite differences between the families, including their divergent views on President Trump, “the walls come down” at first, Rivenbark said. After a bit too much time together, “They go back up again,” and too much time spent with friends, family and neighbors is certainly something anyone who made it through the storm can relate to.
Luckily, TheatreNOW chef Denise Gordon isn’t going with a hurricane-style menu of canned fruit and Vienna sausages, but rather serving up such options as country-fried meatloaf, mac ‘n’ cheese casserole and a fresh fish special that changes weekly.
Rivenbark and Parker’s writing partnership has deepened since “Southern Fried Bitch,” which was written by Rivenbark “with” Parker.” This year’s byline pointedly reads “by Celia Rivenbark AND Kevin Parker.”
For the record, Parker said he’s fine with being “with.” When they were at the theater for performances last year, he said, people would come up to Rivenbark asking her to sign books and other things.
“They’d come up to me asking for a refill,” Parker quipped.
But Parker was an even bigger part of writing “Hurricane” than he was of “Southern Fried,” Rivenbark said, hence the “and” instead of the “with.” (In a short video that will air before the show, Rivenbark and Parker infuse their partnership with a fake but very funny rivalry.)
The show also features three original songs by Wilmington songsmith Catesby Jones, including one, “The Hurricane,” that Rivenbark said has hit potential written all over it.
Rivenbark isn’t one to turn serious on you, at least not for very long. But she did relate one poignant post-storm story.
A few days after Florence she was out in her yard cleaning up debris, despondent that she wouldn’t be able to make it to Chapel Hill to attend an event with her daughter they’d been planning for a year. (The roads out of town were still flooded.) A neighbor she knows but doesn’t see very often walked by, and as she started talking to her, Rivenbark just burst into tears. They hugged and and had a moment.
“I’ve only seen her two or three times since then because she lives a couple of streets over,” Rivenbark said. “But now we’ll always have that connection.”
“This Hurricane Blows,” she continued, isn’t meant to mock what people have been through. Rather, “If you can laugh at something you can survive it,” she said. “Humor restores the power. We reclaim power over things by laughing at them.”
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.