Furman Theatre’s “The Diviners” Brings the Story of a Depression-era Smalltown to Stage

By: Elizabeth Cortes, Contributor

A simple staging allows actor and story to shine in Furman Theatre’s production of “The Diviners” by Jim Leonard, Jr.  In this Depression-era tale, a sleepy Midwestern town pins its hopes on the arrival of C.C. Showers (Derek Leonard), an itinerant ex-preacher looking for work. While Showers simply wishes to help out an intellectually disabled young boy named Buddy Layman (Aaron Prince) the word of Showers’ former profession injects the townsfolk with great excitement. The devout Norma Henshaw (Anna Bowman) in particular becomes obsessed with the idea of Showers leading a revival in the town.  As Norma whips her neighbors into a frenzy, with Showers meanwhile attempting to cure Buddy’s fear of water, the show reaches its emotional climax.

           While “The Diviners” is not a comedy, it manages to get more than a few laughs out of the audience. Leonard’s quips often focus on provincial Bible-thumping types which are prominent here in the South.  These lines perhaps resonate more because of that familiarity. We know these people, whether as family, friends, coworkers, etc. Make no mistake, however; the characters are not confined to stereotype.  From the awkward and romance-challenged farmhand Dewey (Jax Pratt) to the opportunistic Goldie (Makala Fuller), who runs the local diner, a wide spectrum of people populates this world of Zion, Ind., even if that population is 40.

           The Diviners has good production values as well as it’s talented cast — including standouts Emily Matthews as Jennie Mae Layman and Matt Middleton as Farris.  The closest thing to a large set-piece is the strategically placed lighting that depicts a river in two later scenes. It feels more than sufficient though, perhaps because in the play’s sepia-tone Dust Bowl setting, we do not expect eye candy. Rather, this production comes across as pleasantly minimalistic.

           “The Diviners,” under the direction of professor Rhett Bryson, played its final performance Sunday, Feb. 24 at the Playhouse.

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