reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Noted Central Indiana director Lori Raffel has found a new outlet for her theatrical efforts – The Switch Theater, Fishers Indiana’s brand new theatre venue enterprise, located at 10029 East 126th St. inside the Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy. Site owners Douglas A. Whisman and Ji-Eun Lee have here produced Ms. Raffel’s fine The Diviners as their premiere stage offering.

The play by Jim Leonard Jr. is a Hoosier original, set in the fictional Indiana town of Zion, and having been initially developed and performed by the Hanover College Theatre Group in 1980 for an American College Theatre Festival event. It received its first professional production with the Circle Repertory Company of NYC that same year.

The play’s storyline involves the final period of the life of young Buddy Layman, whom the original script describes as an “idiot boy”, although the kid is a bit of a savant in terms of his relationship with water. He is adverse to the stuff, his mother having died saving him from drowning, but can predict storms and can find it in the ground with his divining stick. His phobia won’t allow him to bathe and hence he has health problems due to that shortcoming. Enter C.C. Showers, a former preacher who tries to take the boy under his wing and has moderate success, while working for Buddy’s father, Ferris. Showers’ arrival also has the effect of triggering the small town’s ladies’ fervent hope for a full time preacher, a job the man has left behind.

Ms. Raffel directs the show with her typical expertise. Her choices include a minimal set which allows for much audience imagination, a notably crafty method of segueing scenes, and an assurance that the plot is clearly conveyed by her fine cast, which is filled with some of the best community theatre actors in the region.

Buddy is a boy who never stops thinking, questioning or moving and young actor Colin McCabe is up to the task, giving a remarkably focused performance. He throws himself completely into the role which results in a believability factor which is sharp. Earl Campbell takes the C.C. Showers part and shows his unquestionable grasp of theatrical artistry. His nuanced and honest interpretation of the man’s challenges and gifts is a joy to witness.

The supporting cast is solid as well. Larry Adams is excellent as a grim Ferris Layman, Buddy’s father, letting us see the hard effect losing his wife has had on him. Lauren Hall is splendid as Buddy’s sister Jennie, especially in the teen’s hopeful scenes with C.C.. Dan Flahive is a larger-than-life Basil – a farmer who does a little “doctoring” on the side for the small community. It is almost as if Flahive has stepped out of an Indiana cornfield to be in the play, his accent and manner are so genuine.

Daniel Shock and Mason Tudor bring some levity to the proceedings as lazy farm hands, Melvin and Dewey, while Gloria Merrell is great fun as burgeoning teen, Darlene Henshaw. Jean Adams, Ginger Home and Debbie Underwood convey the parts of the town’s female contingent with a diversity of feminine characteristics – with Ms. Underwood especially noteworthy in her portrayal of the religiously ardent Norma Henshaw.

Bottomline: the entire company moves through the storytelling with clarity and polish, smoothly engaging us in the fantastic tale. This is a quality production and Ms. Raffel and the Switch Theater staff are to be congratulated.

The Diviners continues at The Switch Theater through Oct 6. Performance days and times are noted in the banner at the top of this review. Call 317-800-7780 for reservations or information.