HFC’s “The Diviners” Entered in the Kennedy Center Festival

Henry Ford College’s theatre program is holding performances of “The Diviners” throughout the month of April. The play is written by Jim Leonard Jr. and directed by Mary Bremer Beer. Since the 1980s the play has circulated around different theatre circuits, and for HFC, it will be entered in the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival this year.

The play is Biblical in its roots; it takes place in a town called Zion during the Great Depression, following the trials of the local townsfolk.

Theatre director George Popovich said that it is one of “two serious plays this season.” Considering the darker tone and adult content, this is an experience for those 18 and up.

The show runs deep with Midwestern Americana imagery, music, and dress. Before the lights come on, the audience listens to songs from the film, “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” Banjo and nasally harmonies prepare patrons for what is to come. The set and prop work show dirt, puddles, and a ragged little rust bucket of a town. The townsfolk either work the fields, hang out at the diner, or near the river. One may easily discern that this play is quintessentially depression era America.

At the heart of the play are the characters Buddy Layman and C.C. Showers. Buddy is illiterate, lovable, and rather wild. He has a sensitivity to water; he can find ponds and know when it’s going to rain without any other force besides intuition. It is important to note that his mother died while saving him from drowning as a child, and despite his innate ability to find water, he is deathly afraid of it. Showers on the other hand is your stranger-comes-to-town character; he’s a former preacher that has long abandoned it and refuses to so much as talk about it. Buddy has long, tangled, thick, and dirty brown hair. His arms and legs are wracked with filth and his speech is screechy and wild. Showers is clean cut, well-spoken, and sharply dressed. The dramatic foil between the two really drives the symbolism and ideology of this play home.

A friendship between the ex-preacher and the wild child grows quickly as the summer rises and falls in the play. The rising and falling of the summer in the play seems to coincide with the character arc of Showers and Buddy; Showers is able to help Buddy grow as a person and take strides forward. An example of this would be Buddy finally bathing. Helping Buddy grow provides a way for the preacher’s redemption arc to come full circle. On Buddy Layman, Popovich expressed that he is “A Christ like figure … With a bit of Greek tragedy mixed in.”

The desperate but hopeful tonality is reminiscent of other great period works. Popovich discussed the chief influences on this play; The Miracle Worker, The Rainmaker, and Picnic, as well as The Grapes of Wrath.
Everything about this film portrays struggle; amidst friendship, everyday life and stormy weather. Audiences are immersed by rain storms as Buddy frantically runs around searching for shelter, as thunder rolls overhead, he struggles in the rain. The dark tone of this play makes it a worthwhile experience for older students and locals.

HFC’s theatre program’s next show is “Bug,” another dark production out this June. For showtimes, visit: https://theatre.hfcc.edu/season