‘The Diviners’ play review
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
The Douglas Theatre Department’s Fall 2017 production The Diviners, written by Jim Leonard Jr. and directed by Deborah Neville, tells a deeply moving, tragedy-touched story of a resilient community struggling through the seasons during the Great Depression.
The play takes place in the fictional town of Zion, Indiana, a humble community of farmers, shopkeepers, and residents. One of these townsfolk is a young, intellectually disabled boy named Buddy (Dayna Hoffmann) who has a remarkable gift for finding water and predicting rain, although he is terrified of water. Another is C.C. Showers (Nels Ellis), an ex-preacher newly come to town and looking to put his past behind him, who strikes up a fast friendship with Buddy. They and the other residents of Zion do their best to navigate through difficult times—to work, to dance, to care for one another, and to find joy in surviving.
I found the play’s immersion in its time period to be especially gripping. The costumes and makeup look authentic to the age, especially since some of the characters are unafraid to get dirty and dusty. The dialogue, including accents and colloquialisms, is just as historical, as are the characters’ interactions with one another according to 1930s social norms. Even their usage of props demonstrates their familiarity with the environment and era.
However, the most historically immersive element is the worldview conveyed by all of the actors, a kind of staid, quietly hopeful pragmatism that truly brings the Depression-era setting to life. In every scene, whether sombre and weary or more lighthearted, the characters keep the audience constantly aware that every aspect of their life, their labour, and their ability to grow crops and bring business is fragile.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of humorous moments in the play. Many of these sillier moments involve the endearingly awkward interactions of farm worker Dewey (Christian Krushel) and the young shopkeeper’s niece Darlene (Emma Davis), as Dewey tries to build up the confidence and classiness to charm her. Their attempts at romance demonstrate that even in a time period with very different norms of propriety, youthful awkwardness remains familiarly amusing.
The Diviners also has plenty of charming scenes—and some far more emotional ones—involving Buddy and his relationships with other characters, including his father Ferris (Kobe Doi) and sister Jennie Mae (Marina Cindrich), who love Buddy but don’t know how to handle him; landowner and farmer Beth (Dahlia Kerr), who views the boy’s water-finding gift as a blessing; and especially the patient friendship of Showers. Buddy is easily the most physically active and captivating character in the play. Whether he is exuberant or terrified, Buddy is an unrestrained bundle of energy and life, and Hoffmann portrays his movements and his spirit fantastically.
In terms of score and sound, the show is solid from all angles. The actors provide some music themselves through choral singing, much of it by shopkeeper Norma (Emily Thorne), who deeply desires to bring back a sense of town community that Zion once sustained through singing in church. In addition, the Douglas Department of Stagecraft and Event Technology deserves recognition for sound effects that are integral to the historical atmosphere of the play. The ambiance is built up with the sounds of birds, by which Buddy is fascinated; the weather, which is a huge concern for the agriculture-dependent town; and water, which is a central part of the story.
The Diviners demonstrates that joy can be found even in the careworn rhythms of a precarious life. However, you should also be prepared for some rain, and maybe some tears.
The Diviners runs in the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre until November 18. For advance tickets, go to thediviners.bpt.me.