On an ominous, unusually howling, windy day in L.A., I attended a matinee of Jim Leonard’s The Diviners, at the Secret Rose Theatre in NoHo. Set in the 1930s, in the midst of the foreboding dustbowls and depression of rural Indiana (a la Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men), the play is a magical story of a relationship between a young boy with the ability to divine water, his family, and a preacher newly come to town. The story, with religious overtones of heavenly angels guarding the young townspeople, brought up on the Bible’s profound verses and moral lessons (most relevant, the flood), centers on the boy, Buddy (Michael Beck), who knows things that nobody else does.
Water is of the utmost essence in this play — it controls everything, and is an essential part of agricultural life, showering blessings of sustenance upon the people. The fact that the young boy, with limited mental capacity, is so dumbstruck and fearful of the very water he divines is of extreme irony.
Every character is symbolic, searching for redemption; yet Mother Nature is the ultimate arbiter of their lives. The preacher, C.C Showers (William Barker) is like the lynch pin of so many plays, movies, and songs. In the First Act, when the family asks him to deliver a prayer, he simply states, “Thanks for the food.” This odd levity is a foreboding sign of something major/traumatic to happen in the second act.
When Buddy questions the need for rain, his father and preacher explain, “It rains so birds have something to drink.”
The Diviners portrays a quest for redemption — everybody in the play is some kind of lost soul, searching. The boy, who lost his mother at a young age; his sister, entranced with the visiting preacher (reminiscent of the young maiden in T. Williams’ The Glass Menagerie); the father, an ornery sort who loves and protects his son, to a fault, that the audience senses something tragic to occur; and the preacher who wanders into town, and has completely renounced preaching, just another lost soul like the ones he counsels.
With humor, pathos, deep emotion, and beautiful images of angels and birds, The Diviners is a haunting drama, redeeming itself with a most jarring ending.
The Diviners runs through June 19 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Secret Rose Theatre located at 11246 Magnolia Blvd. in NoHo. For ticket information, call (818) 850-3184 or visit www.humanartstheater.com.