A play with deep meaning and occasional light-heartedness,”The Diviners” by Jim Leonard Jr. was performed by the drama department during the first weekend of November. Although the audience was small on opening night, Thursday, Nov. 2, the audience walked away with profound appreciation for the acting, the set, and especially the music, provided by American Roots musician Spencer Bohren.
A “diviner” finds water by using divining rods, usually a forked stick. The main character, Buddy, has the ability--an almost miraculous ability--to find water. He is somewhat simple-minded, the result of an accident when he was younger. His father and sister love him but find him a trial, especially since he suffers from ringworm and refuses to bathe. Then a former preacher, C.C. Showers shows up, looking for a job, and forms a bond with young Buddy. How that bond plays out, and the other characters who interact with Buddy and C.C. is an intricate dance around the subject of water.
The set is simple, but effective in that it becomes a garage, a riverbank, a coffee shop, a porch and a home with a few words spoken by the characters. The giant circle hanging at the rear of the stage is either the moon or the sun, depending on the characters’ dialogue. Most of backdrop is a mottled blue, giving a suggestion of water, cool, flowing, and always available.
The actors performed at a professional level, especially the main characters, Buddy (Jack Obert) and C.C. Showers (Tyler Wilson). Obert plays the simple Buddy with exuberance, letting the audience know that there is more to Buddy than just a boy running around in dirty overalls. Wilson’s preacher is a troubled man--the audience doesn’t know why he left his church, and he vehemently tells the townspeople that he is not a preacher anymore. Yet with Buddy, the preacher leaves his former world and shows the kind, gentle side of him. Wilson’s portrayal of those two warring characteristics demonstrates his ability as an actor.
Buddy’s sister, Jennie Mae, played by Kassidy Holdridge, is a gentle young woman who is beginning to feel confined by a small town and would like to experience something besides family love. Buddy and Jennie Mae’s father, Ferris, played by Josh Turner, is doing the best he can to rear his children and earn a living, not an easy task in a small town in Indiana during the Great Depression. Turner shows both the joys and frustration of parenting well.
Other characters provide comic relief as well as anticipation for the climax, which was exciting and heartbreaking--and well worth the heartbreak.
Finally, the play cannot be watched without great appreciation for the music. Spencer Bohren provided a folksy-bluesy-gospelly rendition of hymns and folk music from the time period to support the performance. During the final scene, the music drew tears, and Bohren said that he couldn’t play the music without getting teary himself.
Directed by Katie Howard with technical direction by Chris Howard, “The Diviners” is powerful, delightful, and will leave the audience stunned by the outstanding performance. There are still two performances left: Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. in the performing arts center at Bettendorf High School. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students and available at the door; activity tickets will get students in for free.