The Diviners

by Summer Mengarelli

The Factory Theatre performed
the Diviners,
a play by Jim Leonard, Jr., on the nights of April 20th, 21st, and 22nd. This was the fourth theatrical production of the school year, and the first non-musical play. Under the direction of one of Greenville’s newest faculty members, Dr. Courtney Bailey Parker, and with the assistant directorship of junior Maci Sepp, the cast — which consisted of a mix of community members, faculty, and students — rehearsed throughout spring semester for the weekend of performances. Under the sponsorship of the Andrews Fellow for Christian Unity, Dr. Ben Wayman, each night was well-attended, with a large portion of the audience remaining after the curtain call for a talk-back with the cast.

The Diviners tells the story of Buddy Layman, a sixteen-year-old boy with mental handicaps living in the rural town of Zion, Indiana. Buddy and his family become close to C.C. Showers, a former preacher who comes to town looking for a new life. Meanwhile, the townspeople look to C.C. to bring revival to the town, which they believe has become morally depraved since the church burned down.

Buddy Layman was portrayed by sophomore Braden Oestreich, while the part of C.C. Showers went to Jes Adam, the director of the Factory Theatre. Community member and Factory Theatre Hour regular Chris Borwick played Buddy’s father, Ferris Layman; and sophomore Emily Gaffner played Ferris’s daughter Jennie Mae. Sophomores Silas Groves and Chasity Cook portrayed two young townspeople, Dewey Maples and Darlene Henshaw, while junior Eddie Allison made his acting debut as Melvin Wilder. Freshman Faith Hohman and senior Josh Herrick were also Factory Theatre newcomers, acting as Goldie Short and Basil Bennett, respectively, while Dr. Lisa Amundson, Greenville College professor of special education, played Basil’s wife, Luella Bennett.

The play opens with a solemn a capella rendition of “Down to the River to Pray,” led by Jennie Mae. Basil and Dewey step into two spotlights and give an elegy, during which the audience learns that Buddy Layman will die. From there, the play opens onto Basil’s farm, where Buddy is running around with a divining rod. Buddy has the ability to divine, or to find water using a forked stick. Throughout the play, Buddy’s relationship with water becomes more complex — the audience members learn, alongside C.C. Showers, that Buddy has an intense phobia of water that results from a near-drowning experience in his childhood. While the townspeople try to convince C.C. Showers to “fix” Zion, C.C. focuses on trying to help Buddy. Ultimately, despite C.C.’s good intentions, Buddy dies, and the play concludes with a second elegy.

Portraying someone with mental disabilities presents numerous challenges, but Oestreich managed to convey Buddy’s innocence in a way that gave his character dignity. He said, “It was a process all the way through. There was a lot of physicality involved, and that took more rehearsal than I was used to. Our main goal was to portray the character of Buddy Layman as being human, and not a caricature.” The audience fell in love with Buddy each night, and though the play ends on a tragic note with his death, his life provided audience members with a reminder of the diverse kingdom of God.

This is not to say that The Diviners is a typical feel-good story of a loving God: At the end of the play, everyone in the theatre was left to wonder, along with C.C. and the people of Zion, what Buddy’s life and death say about the nature of God. Nonetheless, the Factory Theatre’s rendition of The Divinerswas provocative and emotional, and the actors masterfully conveyed the significance of its story.

 

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