C.C. Showers (Derek Powell) and Ferris Layman (Josh Mele) hold a screaming Buddy (Isaac Betters) as Jennie-Mae (Noelle Killius) brings over a bucket of water. (Photo by Amelia Beamish)
“The Diviners” is one of those shows that delivers on two levels simultaneously. It entertains, but it also makes you stop and think — and maybe even feel something.
With its quirky characters, a smidgen of slapstick and dialogue dotted with wisecracks and sarcasm, the play will engage you and make you laugh. But it will also provoke ruminations on community, individualism, friendship, parenting and spirituality – folklore and faith.
The story of a lovable but brain-damaged 16-year-old Indiana farm boy at the dawn of the Great Depression is now being staged through March 16 by Baldwinsville Theatre Guild under the direction of Krystal Osborne, a performance artist and playwright who boasts a host of Big Apple credits.
Osborne stages Jim Leonard’s award-winning two-act play on the starkest set ever designed by BTG President Josh Taylor. A humble couple of risers stand in front of a backlit blue-sky backdrop and behind a river flowing silently at the lip of the stage.
When a two-toned bicycle is hauled onstage for repairs, it’s the show’s visual highlight. But the setting’s overall severity suggests an important back story — the barren and unforgiving nature of the Indiana countryside. It also puts deserved focus on the dialogue and action, allowing the play to tug on audience emotions as events unfold.
In the early-1930s, in the town of Zion, a widowed farmer is raising his son, Buddy, whose brain was damaged at age 4 during a near drowning in which his mother died trying to save him. The immature and uncontrollable Buddy — enthusiastically portrayed here by baby-faced Isaac Betters — has a sweet spirit but is terrified of water even though he possesses an uncanny ability to find water for his drought-besieged community.
One day a stranger named C.C. Showers — well played by the tall, dark and handsome Derek Powell — passes through Zion looking for work and food. Powell conjures a convincing Kentucky drawl to paint a picture of C.C. as a man of the people, although he turns out to be a backsliding preacher. He takes an immediate liking to Buddy, however, and eventually emerges as the teen’s mentor.
While the balance of the play focuses on that unlikely friendship of 30-year-old C.C. and the childlike Buddy, the supporting cast go the extra mile to give the story context and emotional torque.
Especially impressive are William Edward White as Zion’s old sage, Basil Bennett, Josh Mele as Buddy’s mechanic father, Ferris, and Noelle Killius as Buddy’s eye-flashing older sister, Jennie Mae.
Kathy Egloff excels as Zion’s high-spirited, revivalist busy-body, Norma Henshaw, while Autumn Frodelius radiates budding sensuality as Norma’s frustrated daughter, Darlene.
As Basil’s wife, Luella, actress Marcia Mele’s character plays the devil’s advocate, expressing doubt about Buddy’s gift for divination, and Mele gives a well-nuanced performance. As diner owner Goldie Short, actress Renee Abstender Marchak demonstrates a natural flair for comedy as she serves Buddy an ocean of root beer. The entire cast is comfortably clad in authentic period costumes designed by Krystal Osborne and Emily Hulshiser.
Every single character in this play seeks redemption and renewal, and don’t we all? As in baptism, as in the simple washing of feet, water represents that renewal. Water renews, but water can also drown. “The Diviners” reminds us that we can all find water. We can all empathize. We can express our doubts yet flourish in faith. We are all divine.
“The Diviners” produced by Korrie Taylor continues at the First Presbyterian Education Center, 64 Oswego St., at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9, at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 10; and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16. Tickets cost $24, and $19 for students and seniors; baldwinsvilletheatreguild.org; 315-877-8465.