The Diviners | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Diviners 

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The Diviners, Bog Theatre, and The Diviners, DG Productions, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop. Written in 1979, The Diviners owes something to The Miracle Worker and to innumerable screenplays about a mysterious stranger--frequently a preacher, sometimes a doctor--whose arrival shakes up an isolated Depression-era community. But this time the man is an ex-preacher who shuns his former profession, and the invalid is a boy with a morbid fear of water, the result of childhood trauma (his mother died while rescuing him from drowning).

Accepting an adolescent character who's bathed only intermittently and under duress for most of his life is a task of biblical proportions--indeed, much of this script, by James Leonard Jr., veers precariously close to caricature. Bog Theatre director Daniel Scott and his cast have thought extensively about their material, however, delving into the script's implications and searching for the humanity in each and every utterance of even its most stereo-typical characters. The result is a contemplative, unhurried narrative that draws us in--a process expedited by actors whose ages approximate those of their characters--and renders its events plausible and engaging right up until the tension-filled climax. Dan Tomko projects the dignity of the disenchanted minister, C.C. Showers, in a nicely underplayed performance, while Chip Allman as the feral Buddy resists the part's temptation to excess.

Unfortunately the same praise cannot be given to the staging of Leonard's play by the newly formed DG Productions. The talent in this young cast is evident, but often their enthusiasm overpowers their enunciation (an exception is the town doctor, played by James Hedson). More debilitating is the company's failure to make fundamental decisions about key roles. Is C.C. sincere in his rejection of the ministry? What are the precise symptoms of Buddy's affliction? Add director Charles H. Davidson's nebulous scenic orientation (in one instance a character is swept underwater in the shallow part of the river) and static blocking, using only a fraction of the stage space, and what could have been a parable of power and transcendence becomes little more than a classroom exercise.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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