‘The Diviners’ mix drama, humor at Stage 3

Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat /

There is a town in southern Indiana that few have heard of. No one notable ever emerged from it. It's not even footnote in the history books. But it was the center of a remarkable chain of events that would forever change the lives of everyone involved.

The town is called Zion and the story is about two misfits, one who should be dead and one who might as well be. One can find water and one can't find God. The story has become local legend, the type a stranger might think never happened at all. But it did. Though it is pure fiction, it holds the truth.

It is called "The Diviners" and it opens Friday at Stage 3 Theatre Company in Sonora.

"Astounding" and "compelling" are the words New York Magazine used to describe Jim Leonard Jr.'s moving and humorous play about simple people who are confronted with forces beyond their control or comprehension.

"A gem" filled with "warmth, humor and love of humanity," proclaimed Variety and the Denver Post.

"It carries a message of hope and faith - in ourselves, in each other and in something greater than the sum of those parts," said Stage 3 Artistic Director Don Bilotti.

"The Diviners" may be the most famous play you never heard of, he said. First performed in 1981, it has enjoyed success across the country and around the world far beyond its humble beginnings. Its staying power is a tribute to brilliant craftsmanship and breathtaking story.

The town of Zion is slowly dying. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl have both settled on the town like some Old Testament curse. God has seeming turned his back on the town. The residents have souls as parched and rootless as the crops trying to etch a toehold in the barren soil. They need a miracle and they need it fast. One day, their prayers are answered. It just wasn't the answer any of them expected.

C.C. Showers is running a race that he can never win. He is trying to outrun himself and his past past. He stumbles into Zion half starved and meets Buddy Layman, a boy who is brain damaged and terrified of water due to a near-drowning experience that killed his mother when he was 4. This unlikely pair join forces and might find a way to heal each other and the town.

But there is a price to pay. There might be a tragedy waiting to happen.

"I have to keep reminding myself it's not a comedy," said Bilotti, who is also directing this production. "Don't get me wrong, this is a thrilling explosion of a play. Bring those tissues, because you'll need them. And what the play says about humanity is serious and rock-bottom beautiful and true. It's deep, it's personal and it's uplifting.

"But I can't help it. I see so much humor in the dang thing, I forget it's supposed to be serious. That's the play's secret weapon and the reason it has such staying power. You know from the very first scene that a freight train is barreling straight at you. But as the serious story develops it is interspersed with so much delight that you forget about the train. And just when you're not expecting it … bam. One locomotive right in the kisser. Honestly, I've never had so much fun working on a piece that will break your heart."

The play contains some mild language.

The cast is led by Colton Dennis as C.C. Showers and Kii Kellerman as Buddy Layman.

Dennis is a veteran actor and director, last seen at Stage 3 as Horatio in "Hamlet." He is artistic director of Patterson Repertory Theater and later this summer will direct a production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It."

Kellerman made his Stage 3 debut - and quite a big splash in the region - as Eugene in "Brighton Beach Memoirs." He returns to play the crucial and difficult role of Buddy.

Buddy's father, Ferris, is played by Mike Moon. Moon has been featured in a number of productions "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "November" and "Over the River and through the Woods" to name a few.

Catelin Moody steps out in her first major role at Stage 3 as older sister Jennie Mae.

Susan Michael and Cam Deen play Luella and Basil. Michael has starred in a number of Stage 3 productions, perhaps most notably as Violet in "August: Osage County." Deen returns after appearing in the premiere of "The Poetry of Pizza" some season back.

Susan Chapman ("Brighton Beach Memoirs") and Brie Miller ("August: Osage County," "The Crucible," "Hamlet") are Norma and Darlene, the passionate believer and town wild child, respectively.

Emily Graham as Goldie, Glenn Meadows as Dewey and John Hosek as Melvin are all appearing at Stage 3 for the first time.

Ron Cotnam provides set design, costume designer is Linda Glick and lights are designed by Matthew Leamy. The production is stage managed by Melody Johnson, assisted by Alicia Johnson.

This production is made possible in part by Associate Producer Micro-Tronics.

"The Diviners" will run through July 28 at 208 S. Green St. in downtown Sonora. There will be no show on July 4.

Curtain times are 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Ticket prices are $20 Thursday and $22 Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Senior Sundays are $20 and students are always $12.

Call 536?1778 or visit www.stage3.org for reservations or more information.

The Union Democrat
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