Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Episcopal High School The Diviners

By • Apr 28th, 2008 • Category: Cappies

On April 26, as the rain came down outside the theatre, Episcopal High School presented an affecting production of The Diviners, a story of a mentally challenged boy attempting to overcome his fear of water with the help of a transient former priest.

Written by Jim Leonard Jr. during his freshman year at Hanover College, The Diviners go on to win the top award at Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival. The rarely performed play tells the story of the relationship between disillusioned clergyman C.C. Showers (Richard Firth) and fourteen-year-old Buddy Layman (Colin Wiles). An early childhood accident that claimed his mother’s life and almost took his own has left Layman with a severe case of hydrophobia, a condition that becomes essential for him to overcome.

Episcopal’s production was notably characterized by strongly united performers, a smooth flow between scenes, and minimal yet effective tech work. With a spartan set comprised of several platforms and a hanging piece of fabric, the cast and crew effectively transformed the small black box theatre into the depression era town of Zion, Indiana.

As Layman, Wiles was faced with the difficulties of portraying a complex role – a teenage boy in the emotional state of a young child with myriad manifestations of a mental disability. These characteristics created a challenging role generally beyond the scope of high school performers. Wiles was able to cope with these challenges admirably, neither overplaying nor simplifying the part.

Firth so naturally assumed his role that he rarely appeared to be a performing. While his own character’s transformation may have been under-emphasized, Firth created a strong paternal bond with Wiles so that the position C.C. had in Buddy’s change greatly enhanced the quality of the production.

Khadijah Hall stood out in the cast’s ensemble for her animated and subtly humorous performance as Goldie, the deeply religious owner of a town diner. While she had only one major scene, Hall had a strong stage presence that naturally made her an integral part of any subsequent lesser scene.

The cast members were very effective in supporting each other on stage, resulting in blurred distinctions between leads and ensemble. When necessary, the smallest role could become the most important character at any given time, reflecting the harmony among the performers.

As she tries to convince him to resume preaching, Norma (Breanna Jones), a town storekeeper, reminds C.C. that “a man can’t toss off the spirit like he tosses off a coat.” Certainly, the melancholy spirit of Episcopal’s The Diviners remained, affecting the audience as they put on their coats and ventured out into the rainy night.

by Jacob Horn of St. Andrew’s

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