Plays about the American heartland -- one- time so-called regional dramas -- have become an uncommon commodity in today's urban-oriented theater. Trust the enterprising Circle Repertory Company to come up with "The Diviners," an exceptional piece of Americana. Aided by a troupe of sterling New York actors, two Indiana playmakers have created a strange and beautiful stage work, touched with an aura of legend, grounded in down-home Hoosier authenticity.
In his debut as a professional playwright, Jim Leonard Jr. is telling a tale of the depression '30s, set "in the homes, fields, and public gathering places of the mythical southern Indiana town of Zion, population 40." The simple unit setting is by John Lee Beatty.
Mr. Leonard's protagonist is the immemorial wayfaring stranger. A disillusioned ex-preacher from Kentucky, C. C. Showers (Timothy Shelton) is looking only for a steady job that demands no sermonizing. He is taken on by the local garage owner (Jimmie Ray Weeks), whose teen-age son, Buddy (Robert MacNaughton), can dowse for water and forecast rain but who suffers from an irrational fear of water.
As C. C. gets to know Buddy, he determines to fight the ghostly guilts that haunt the boy. Folk tale and Freud mingle uneasily at times in the tragic drama and the depiction of Buddy's skin ailment is extremely graphic. But the developing relationship between C. C. and Buddy and the growing sense of trust are developed with great tenderness. The quality of the writing is matched in the playing.
The performance directed by Tom Evans, Mr. Leonard's fellow Indianian, grasps the bold and subtle shadings, the comic and tragic elements, of the play.