We all need something. For the character Buddy Layman in “The Diviners,” that something is a friend. Buddy lives in a small Indiana town where no one, especially his father, understands how to handle his special needs.
Justin Gardner did an outstanding job playing Buddy last weekend as Castleton theater students put on the first production of the school year, directed by Steven Small.
Gardner perfectly portrayed the innocence of someone with Buddy’s mental disabilities and his talented acting helped the other actors play their roles.
In the opening sequence, the audience is told that Buddy is going to die. It is a simple, yet impactful scene where Dewey Maples, a farm hand played by Dalton-Jesse Cummins, and Basil Bennett, a doctor turned farmer played by Cameron Scully, stood on opposite sides of the stage with spotlights on each and gave their accounts of the day of Buddy’s death.
Throughout the play, the audience can guess the likely cause of his death because of his extreme phobia of water and the fact that his mother drowned when he was a child. Although the audience knows he will die, the audience still went silent when he actually does.
C.C. Showers, an ex-preacher played by Michael Tuffy, arrives in town dressed in a suit and presents an interesting contrast to the small-town people. Tuffy’s character is just the friend Buddy needs.
Each person in the town seems to be seeking something: whether that be love, religion, or freedom from itching.
For Norma Henshaw, played by Hayley Ryan, that thing is a preacher. She has been praying for a preacher for years. Showers insists that he is not a preacher anymore, but Norma sees everything that happens as a blessing and continues with her theory that he is the preacher she has waited for.
Christianity is a strong theme throughout the entire show. Norma wants more of it, C.C. wants less of it, and Buddy just wants to understand why Jesus had to take his mother.
Ironically, Buddy drowns as the women are celebrating the baptism they erroneously think is happening.
This was hands-down the best scene visually. As Buddy is drowning, everyone is in slow motion and the lights are blue. For seconds at a time, the cast would move at full speed and speak to indicate that he was above water for a moment before going under once again. It was so creative and pulled the audience in so that they really experienced the intensity of the moment.
The set was simple: a beige stage with a single stage block, also painted beige. The barren set represented the dry and monotonous Indiana town that the action of the play is occurring in. The simple set allowed the audience to focus on the action.
The one thing the cast could have improved on is the intensity during the argument scenes. A few times, characters were having conflicts, but it came across as loud talking because the body language tension was not fully there.
This is a cast of incredibly talented actors, however. With such a simple set, they had an opportunity to showcase their ability to convince the audience what is happening. They had no water, but the audience believed that it was raining. There was no river, but the audience believed that CC is swimming through it to save Buddy. Their accents and Midwest colloquialisms easily put the audience in quiet Zion, Indiana.