Through methods that seem illogical and almost mystical, diviners or dowsers seek sources of water that lie hidden from sight or scrutiny. The Diviners now playing at Colonial Players of Annapolis uses this metaphor to offer a lyrical vignette on sources of strength and faith that lie hidden from sight but whose power is undeniable.
Director Edd Miller [read about his other life in this week’s feature story] has assembled a strong cast whose ensemble work is exemplary. Individually the performances are strong; collectively the sum is evocative and elegiac.
Written by Jim Leonard, a rarely produced playwright finding more of a home as a producer for television, The Diviners (1980) is set in 1929 Indiana and tells the tale of Buddy, a young boy who can predict rain and find underground water streams but was scarred at a young age by his mother’s drowning. The aptly named C.C. Showers appears on the scene; a pastor who has renounced his calling, C.C. is looking for work as a laborer.
C.C. is intrigued by Buddy and his playful, innocent ways. Genuine, unsullied friendships are portrayed in The Diviners. No hidden motives and no lurking dangers, just innocent caring between people.
Eric Schaum as Buddy Layman embodies the twitchiness of an adolescent, one who has special gifts yet lacks ordinary skills. His openness and vulnerability are pivotal to the role. Schaum also masters Buddy’s cantankerousness and odd ways.
Ben Carr as C.C. Showers carries off a difficult role with quiet intensity. C.C.’s history is not well developed. Yet a believable mentor-student relationship flourishes between him and Buddy. Carr’s depiction of that fondness rings true in every scene.
Eddie Hall gives a stand-out performance as Ferris Layman, Buddy’s father. There is a great deal of humor in this production, much of it due to Hall’s understated but pitch-perfect performance.
Joe Thompson as a machine-phobic neighbor, Basil Bennett, inhabits his role in a casual, irresistible way. He looks to have been born in overalls and has never been better. Similarly, Karen Lambert as his wife, Luella Bennett, nails her Midwestern accent. Her walk and mannerisms are utterly believable.
Mackenzie Blade as Buddy’s sister, Jennie Mae Layman, ably projects all the caring and sometimes frustration of an older sister as well as the early stages of adolescent infatuation for C.C.
Jay Sullivan as Dewey Maples and Erik W. Alexis as Melvin Wilder portray farm hands who would rather be wooing local girls than working. They are adept at their comedic interludes and ably add a needed dimension to the play.
A trio of townswomen — Mary C. Koster as Norma, Brenda Mack as Goldie and Hannah Sturm as Darlene —round out the cast.
A magical, mystical floor (that’s all to be said without giving away the surprise) opens and ends The Diviners. Once again, the set designers at Colonial Players show their unique skills. This is a really good, inventive crew.
The final scene is staggeringly effective, and the final image is surprisingly moving.
In this elegantly simple production, the audience gets to appreciate both a community of townspeople and a strong community of actors.
Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Lighting designer: Jennifer Parris. Costume designer: Beth Terranova. Stage designer: Edd Miller. Sound designer: Wes Bedsworth. Properties: Lois Banscher. Producer: Tom Stuckey.
Playing thru January 22 at 8pm TFSa; 2pm Su; 7:30pm Jan. 16 at Colonial Players, Annapolis. rsvp; $20 w/age discount: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.com.