On the eve of storm season, “This Hurricane Blows” laughs into the wind

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Celia Rivenbark and Kevin Parker’s dinner theater play, subtitled “A Cat 5 Comedy,” runs weekends through June 29 at TheatreNOW in Wilmington.

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It takes some stones to put the word “blows” into the title of your play. But Celia Rivenbark and Kevin Parker don’t worry about tempting fate or, for that matter, headline writers who might be too clever for their own good.

Rather, they just speak a truth we all know from experience with “This Hurricane Blows,” their laugh-filled dinner theater show at TheatreNOW that opened last weekend under the direction of James Bowling. The play, which uses as fodder the Wilmington area’s head-on collision with Hurricane Florence last summer, runs weekends through June 29.

The show is set in Brunswick County, which for a decade or more has hosted an invasive species: Northerners. One of these families, the D’Milos of new Jersey, has settled next to the Holdens, and when the storm comes, the story cleverly merges the fates of the families who call each other The Sopranos and The Clampetts. The characters often feel like stereotypes, and the hilarity is definitely front-loaded before dying down toward the end, but the jokes fly like unsecured lawn furniture and most (if not all) of them land.

Ron Hasson and Paula Davis play Tweeter and Kimmysue Holden, a longtime married couple who’ve weathered many storms together.

“Take it easy on the hurricane supplies,” Tweeter teases his skinny wife. “You don’t want to be too big to fit in the rescue boat.”

The Holdens — who worry that their hurricane newbie neighbors might not even know that the first thing you do when the power goes out is to put all of the beer and ice into the washing machine — have a poster of President Trump prominently displayed in their living room. But haters of Celia’s Donald-skewering column might be surprised to discover that the play treats the Holdens with, you know, respect. If anything they come off better than their crass Northern neighbors, Anthony and Sophia, who Joe Renton and Lupin Byers play like “Jersey Shore” was shooting an episode down South. (Michelle Reiff plays Anthony’s doting, ill-tempered mom, Aurora).

As Anthony tells Tweeter, “The problem with You People is you take every assault on your character personally.” Much of the show is spent poking fun at the cluelessness of the D’Milos when it comes to storms, who face the hurricane with a bunch of frozen food and “one Yankee Candle.” Naturally, when the storm hits, the two families wind up spending way too much time together, learning to both annoy and appreciate each other.

As Tweeter and Kimmysue, Hasson and Davis turn in performances that are very easy to like, especially Davis, who comes across like the very picture of conservative Southern womanhood, her nurturing persona tempered by the occasional sassy disparagement. As the gentle, patient Tweeter, Hasson captures the deep ennui of watching the power truck turn at the corner during one memorable sequence. Locals will get other references as well, including one about the relationship between the towns of Leland and Belville devolving into India vs. Pakistan (or Duke vs. Carolina) levels of acrimony.

During a few interludes, the writers have lots of fun with hurricane-themed humor. Overly detailed announcement of closings are rightly mocked when a vapid TV news anchor played by Lynette O’Callaghan intones, “The Bun Head Ballet School will remain closed until further notice. All area Waffle Houses, however, remain open.”

The show also pokes good-natured fun at local pubic radio station WHQR, which the families reach with their hand-cranked radio in time to hear host Sturgill Lansdowne (Kent West) offer his listeners a weather update that also serves as a break from “the relentless jazz.”

O’Callaghan and West both play a variety of roles, with the latter scoring laughs as a shady tree contractor who admits, “There are things we’re legally required to say. Just not in North Carolina.”

Three quality original tunes by Wilmington songwriter Catesby Jones also serve as interludes, standouts all, especially “The Hurricane Song.”

Chef Denise Gordon’s tasty menu has plenty of variety, with a “hurricane salad” starter nodding to storm fare, a breaded and country-fried meatloaf a nice spin on the Southern staple and a baked fish filet taking on island flavors with a pineapple-mango salsa. The “Mac-n-Cheese 4-Ways” came off a little gluey, but then again you can’t totally ruin mac ‘n’ cheese.

Having just been through a major hurricane, Florence, some might say it’s too soon to send up what we all endured. I disagree, mainly because, if it’s well-written, anything can be funny. “This Hurricane Blows” qualifies on both counts.

Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.