BWW Review: THE DIVINERS at Wichita Community Theatre, A splendid drama
On a rainy night, The Diviners was presented by Wichita Community Theatre, a play written by Jim Leonard, Jr. and set during the depression era of a small town named Zion, Indiana. The play has a rich production history having been performed on the upper east coast during the year 1980 when it was first written for the American College Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C. Many theatres and high schools subsequently followed and produced The Diviners until of course Wichita Community Theatre decided to wisely include it into their current 2018-2019 season. The show has similar themes seen earlier in the season and centers mainly around the relationship of C.C. Showers, a former preacher, and Buddy Layman, a mentally challenged young boy whose mission is to divine or search for running water yet at the same time has fears of water himself.
At the helm of the production team is Abri Geist-Dennis as director for the eleven-member company. Geist-Dennis' direction and casting decisions are smart. The show is well-cast and thus well-acted. Showers is played by Trevor Vincent Farney, a truly wonderful actor. Farney's delivery is both swindling yet sensual, captivating the heart of the town, including Jennie Mae Layman (Lily Shaw), Buddy's sister. Shaw, a student at Circle High School, portrayed Jennie Mae with youthfulness but with timid trepidation when flirting with C.C. Showers. Buddy Layman is performed by local favorite Leo Larson who does an incredible job of being a totally different persona on stage other than the last one audience members may remember him as in Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime. The rest of the company comprises the townspeople of Zion. Themes of faith, politics, and small-town affiliations shine through with this chorus of actors, particularly during a scene in act one between Ferris Layman (Gilbert Pearce) and Basil Bennett (Kevin Sowers) in which the two work on fixing Basil's bicycle. Rounding out the rest of the townspeople are Dewey Maples (Hagan Simmons), Melvin Wilder (Matthew Purdom), Darlene Henshaw (Nicole Araiza), Goldie Short (Esme Banuelos), Norma Henshaw (Chelsea Lee), and Luella Bennett (Veronica Hill). All our strong in their respective characters and really show what living in a small town is like, something we are no stranger to here in Wichita.
The set was designed by Jerry Wehry and costumes by Mary Tush-Green. Lightning was done by Tony Applegate with props by Louise Brinegar. All elements aided to the production, but I do have some slight reservations. Set changing took place while actors were still speaking, particularly when they had to move the diner chairs and table when it could have been easily done during a blackout. And while there were some rolling set pieces, it would have been nice and beneficial if there was an elevated platform center-stage where most of the action could have taken place, and then eventually surround the audience for various other scenes. Theatre in the round does not necessarily mean it has to be done close at all times; staging can be more powerful when distant from the audience seating, and there are certainly nice moments in this production when that does happen. Also, some lighting transitions were not quite as smooth plus some lights were not as focused which lead to too much light bleeding onto areas of the stage not being fully utilized by the actors and actresses. Still, I have to congratulate Wichita Community Theatre for their use of sound effects, designed by Kevin Sowers, which were effectively used at the end of the show. It can be noted there are productions which have used actual water on stage. It was nice to see actors pantomime divining and bathing without the use of real water but with sound effects and song instead. Generally, I still truly highly recommend seeing this production and if you are ever looking for fine acting in this city, look no further than to Wichita Community Theatre.
Special Project Manager Irene Hart informed me at the performance that Wichita Community Theatre is in the process of using extra land to the south of the building for a brand new parking lot, which would free up Fountain street and provide handicap access and closer spots for patrons attending the show. The phase of construction is still relatively young and being presented to the City of Wichita. More details to come.
What: The Diviners
Where: Wichita Community Theatre, 258 N. Fountain
When: June 5-16, 2019, Wednesday -Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
Cost: $15 Adults, $13 Students, Seniors and Military
For Reservations call 316.686.1282