BWW Review: THE DIVINERS Washes You Over With Emotions at Birmingham Festival Theatre
"The Diviners" is a riveting play set during the great depression in the drought affected town of Zion, Indiana. The story is packed with delightful townspeople filled with dust bowl charm and layered personalities leading toward unexpected emotions. Jim Leonard Jr.'s engaging writing holds a story beating with emotion and tension. Buddy (Blake Tanner), a traumatized teenage boy is tortured by his gifts to predict rain. This leads to powerful inner turmoil and teetering mental confusion. He is gifted with ability to find wells and predict rain; but his fear and aversion to water keeps him from obtaining any cleanliness, yet alone Godliness. His father Ferris (David Coker) is a hard working man with a pension for machines more than people. Ferris's daughter Jennie (Kelsey Crawford) is "almost gown" at eighteen. She is worn out from acting as Buddy's 24/7 fixer of his outbursts and irrational behaviors. The hands of fate intervene with the arrival of CC Showers (B.J. Underwood) He is a smooth talkative, charismatic man looking for work and a fresh start. He unsuccessfully tries to keep on the DL that his previous job was that of a preacher. He walked away from his position, congregation and God. The friendship that buds between him and Buddy grow into thick twisty vine where they both grow to deeply connect with each other. The plot gains speed as the bond between them expose the fears and turmoil behind the gifts each are given.
Writer Jim Leonard Jr. slickly incorporates biblical imagery to add comedy and at times, a seemingly heaven sent irony. His careful building of the tension in the story allows for stronger storytelling. Each layer of the story sets up the next layer. The warmth of the play is found in its endearing characters and well thought out storyline. Director Daniel Martin is clearly in tune with the necessary emotional beats this story requires. His work shows respect, patience and a true understanding of the levels necessary for each actor to make powerful connections to these roles.
Blake Tanner is absolutely fearless in the role of Buddy. He fully embraces the troubled and innocence of the role. The physical commitment to the role did not slow him down one bit. Tanner's approach, instincts and craft provide a performance where you literally forget you are watching an actor in a role. B.J. Underwood's (CC Showers) delivery showcases a touching and entertaining hybrid of Henry Hill and Cool Hand Luke. He gives CC a come as you are spirit and a respect of a man who is at a crossroads in faith. Kelsey Crawford (Jennie) delivers with a striking grasp of a youthful spirit maturing through hardships.
The play is fueled by a cast of characters with stacks of layers to each role. Mind you that these rural mid-west characters are typical in definition only. Leonard's writing gives these typical characters very atypical beats and moments to shine with snappy and smart dialogue. Kudos to Hal McIntosh, Muhammad AL-Kahlout, Michael Wilson, Donna Love, Penny Thomas, Martha Summey, Rachael Burnett.
You will be treated to creative visual elements that accentuate this touching story. The cast provides many tears and laughs as well. "The Diviners" is definitely a high caliber production worthy of a visit before the rain washes it away this weekend.
Written by Jim Leonard
Directed by Daniel Martin
Cast : Hal McIntosh, Muhammad AL-Kahlout, Blake Tanner, Michael Wilson, Donna Love, Kelsey Crawford, BJ Underwood, David Corker, Penny Thomas, Martha Summey, Rachael Burnett.
Birmingham Festival Theatre
1901 1/2 11th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205
May 3rd - 19th
Tickets - $25 Student rate with valid student ID- $10 . Group rate for 10 or more; reservation and prepayment required- $15
For more information: (205) 933-2383 or www.bftonline.org
Photo Credit: Steven Ross