Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Diviners: Simple yet Lingering

by Jenni Morin

The Diviners by Jim Leonard, Jr. may be about simple people, but the themes it explores delve into the depths of human nature, forces of nature and the natural cycle of life. The Sheldon Vexler Theatre delivers a lingering production that hints at these profound matters and bearing more weight in retrospect.

Travis Simpson as C.C. Showers, Isaac Oullette as Buddy
Layman, and Alexandra Eckelbarger as Jennie-Mae Layman
in The Vex production of The Diviners.
The Diviners, as the playwright notes, is about simple people with good intentions. Specifically, it zeroes in on a young boy, Buddy Layman, who has been psychologically and mentally debilitated by the death of his mother and his near drowning at an early age. While his father receives unsolicited advice on raising him and his sister cares for him without a life of her own, each character is very much a product of life in their small town in Depression era southern Indiana. When C.C. Showers, a former preacher, wanders into town, some believe their prayers have been answered, others notice his good looks, and the Laymans are happy to have someone to befriend and help look after Buddy who can predict the rain and is too afraid of water to wash. When Buddy develops ringworm, C.C. takes it upon himself to find a way to get Buddy in the water despite his protests.

Just like Buddy, The Vex’s presentation of The Diviners is a reflection of how something seemingly strange can be intriguing and beautiful. The staging by co-directors Dylan Brainard and Tami Kai feels disjointed and amiss at first, but gradually grows into a stylistic presentation, culminating in a much more affecting finale than if it had been presented without those peculiarities. The entire cast is a genuine ensemble steady in their representation of this unassuming community, although occasionally out of sync. Standout performances include Isaac Oullette as Buddy Layman, Alexandra Eckelbarger as JennieMae Layman, Laurie Fitzpatrick as Norma Henshaw, Chris Byrnes as Dewey Maples and Robert Moritz as Ferris Layman. It’s Travis Simpson’s portrayal of C.C. Showers that epitomized much of the quiet restlessness seeping from the script’s subtext.

Ken Frazier’s simple set of raked platforms, seemingly covered in dirt and framed by crates and barrels serving as seating and props, truly encapsulates the period. The most notable feature is the backdrop of water created by fabric strips in varying shades of blue, which serves as a reminder of the cleansing yet deadly element. The costumes were fitting and Yvette Oakes-Crabtree deserves a special nod for great attention to detail in distressing and dirtying the clothes and hat brims. Frazier’s lighting and Chad A. Miller’s sound design provided atmosphere and defined the scenes by washing the stage in blues and filling the space with nature’s cadence.

The Diviners supplies a medley of takeaways ripe for discussion. Its cyclical plot speaks to fate, nature’s rule, and religion’s role in shaping the inevitable. Almost as a character itself, water’s omnipotence grows as everyone tries to convince Buddy of its benevolence, only revealing Buddy’s omniscience about the element’s true nature. Minor themes of effective child rearing, resistance to technology and industrialization, appropriate relationships, and one’s true calling in life as it applies to work ethic help to round out the play’s commentary on humanity’s response to age-old questions of evolution, divinity and destiny.

The Vex production of The Diviners is an engaging and introspective theatre experience for audience members looking for a script to analyze as well as those just hoping for an escape into another time and place. Wrought with thematic gems, The Diviners delivers a deluge of analytical opportunities, while simultaneously yielding a simple and enduring story.

The Diviners will run at The Sheldon Vexler Theatre through February 28, 2016 with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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