Everyone loves a connection to his or her city, state, or alma mater. The Diviners, now on stage through Casey Ross Productions in association with the Carmel Theatre Company, is set in a small Indiana town in the 1930s. It was written by Hanover College graduate Jim Leonard Jr., who also co-founded the Bloomington Playwrights Project, and it premiered at Hanover.
This isn’t the first time The Diviners has graced a Carmel stage. In June of 2012, it was staged at the Carmel Community Playhouse. At that time, then-Arts Editor Scott Shoger had an opportunity to speak with the playwright, and Leonard commented on audiences relating to his play: “Well, it’s got a big, bold story and characters that people can identify with. And the fact that it’s set at an iconic time makes it something that translates across years; people can continue to identify with it.”
The story’s main characters are Buddy, a mentally challenged 17-year-old with a natural gift for dowsing, and C.C. Showers, an ex-pastor who shows up in Zion, Indiana, trying to find a new way of life. Pat Mullen is a sweet, simple, sincere Buddy, a character plagued by aquaphobia due to his mother’s death while saving him from drowning as a toddler. Mullen’s Buddy is likable, and Mullen avoids becoming a caricature. Davey Peluse, playing C.C., also worked with director Casey Ross in Tortillo! earlier this year. As believable as his character was in Tortillo!, he is significantly more so here in a serious role. Peluse exhibits the bearing and clear, booming voice of a man who has spent his adult life behind a pulpit. While C.C. professes to have left preaching, Peluse gives C.C. a confident demeanor and easy with people, harkening back to C.C.’s past life.
The cast is rounded out by townspeople, minor characters who add the “slice of life” element to the show and help propel plot and provide background and motivation. These are charming, often humorous characters: Zach Stonerock as Ferris, a mechanic, father to Buddy and Jennie Mae, and C.C.’s employer; Allyson Womack, Buddy’s older sister and caregiver; Basil, a local farmer/doctor who also serves as narrator; Kathryn Comer Paton as Luella, Basil’s wife; Paige Scott as Norma, a Bible-thumping dry-goods-store owner; Heather R. Owens as Darlene, her niece and Jennie May’s friend; Audrey Stauffer Stonerock as Goldie, owner of the diner; and Johnny Mullins and Tyler Gordon as Dewey and Melvin, farmhands.
One particularly absorbing part of director Ross’s stagecraft is the underwater scene. A combination of slow motion and David C. Matthews’s lighting depicts action when the characters are underwater, cut with moments that they surface with normal motion and lighting. This scene is impressively effective.
The production is performed in a black-box theater, so Chris Plunkett and Peluse’s set is minimalist but serves its purposes well, as does Marina Turner’s anachronistic costumes (they still capture the style of the time).
In the beginning, some of the actors speak a little too quickly, but that is the only nitpick I can find in this touching show.