Review: Hoosier play brings out actors’ best

By John Lyle Belden

Jim Leonard Jr.’s “The Diviners,” a snapshot of Depression-era Indiana with supernatural overtones, is presented through Sunday by Casey Ross Productions at Carmel Theatre Company (former CCP stage), 15 1st Ave. in downtown Carmel.

The story centers on Buddy Layman (played by Pat Mullen), a youth rendered simple-minded years ago by his near-drowning in the local river, an incident that took his mother’s life. Now a teen, he never bathes and is so afraid of water that he can sense rain hours before anyone even sees clouds, as well as feel it below the ground, allowing him to “divine” locations for wells.

He is cared for by his older sister Jennie Mae (Allyson Womack) and father Ferris (Zach Stonerock), the local engine and bicycle mechanic. Neighboring farmers Basil and Luella Bennett (David Mosedale and Kathryn Comer Paton) see Buddy’s abilities as an asset, as their lives are so tied to the land. In the play’s first scenes, Bennett’s farmhands, Dewey and Melvin (Johnny Mullins and Tyler Gordon) witness Buddy’s “divining” first-hand.

Into this world comes a young drifter, C.C. Showers (Davey Pelsue), looking for work. Ferris hires him, even though the man’s only job experience had been as a preacher, a job he had taken more out of family obligation than spiritual calling, and thus felt no motivation to continue. Showers also takes an interest in Buddy, seeing him more as a troubled person than a human water-detector. In town, they (and we) meet the remaining members of the cast, Bible-thumping shopkeeper Norma Henshaw and her headstrong daughter Darlene (Paige Scott and Heather R. Owens) as well as Goldie Short (Audrey Stauffer Stonerock), who runs the local diner; her bottled soda is about the only liquid Buddy will touch.

Norma’s desire to see the local long-destroyed church rebuilt has her see Showers’ every word and deed as a sign that the man will return to the ministry for their town. His actions to help Buddy with a persistent skin condition become much larger in her eyes, leading to tragic circumstances.

The cast, under the direction of Casey Ross, bring their dramatic A-game. Mullen earns praise for not overselling Buddy’s condition, earnestly delivering the boy’s frustratingly third-person speech and making him feel real. We can see Pelsue’s tattoos peeking out of his shirt sleeves, yet still believe he is a 1930s Kentucky preacher; this is his best performance yet. Mr. Stonerock is convincingly paternal; you can see the zeal gleaming in Scott’s eyes; and Mosedale is rock solid.

To be honest, there are no weak performances at all, which helps keep this play above its potential for cliché or caricature. For comparison, consider the best “Waltons” episode you ever saw, and add water.

For info and tickets, see uncannycasey.wix.com/caseyrossproductions or “caseyrossproductions” on Facebook.

(Also posted at The Word.)

Review: Time for ‘Timon’

Timon (Brian Hartz, center) is finally losing patience with the artist (Bradford Reilly, left) and poet (Taylor Cox) who had been so eager to take his money in Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens," presented by Casey Ross Productions at the 2015 Bard Fest in Carmel, Ind.
Timon (Brian Hartz, center) is finally losing patience with the artist (Bradford Reilly, left) and poet (Taylor Cox) who had been so eager to take his money in Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens,” presented by Casey Ross Productions at the 2015 Bard Fest in Carmel, Ind. — CRP photo

By John Lyle Belden

You’ve heard the phrase, “generous to a fault” – now see the consequences play out in Casey Ross Production’s “Timon of Athens” during the Bard Fest Shakespeare Festival in downtown Carmel.

In Shakespeare’s least-produced play, which, having elements of both his comedies and tragedies, Ross considers a black comedy, Athenian nobleman Timon (played by Brian G. Hartz) lavishes his wealth on friends and hangers-on, overpaying for art and giving to all who ask – or even don’t ask, but are there to receive it.

Only his steward, Flavius (Colin McCord), sees the danger of Timon’s dwindling fortunes. And only the self-denying philosopher Apemantus (Carey Shea) refuses to accept any gifts, making him the only one Timon is suspicious of, rather than the leeches at his banquet.

When Flavius finally gets through to Timon, the nobleman is broke – even his lands are forfeit. The “friends” who received so generously will give him nothing, so a disgusted Timon leaves the city to live in the wilderness. Even the discovery of a cache of gold does not make Timon happy, other than his mad glee to use the found fortune to curse Athens while keeping nothing for himself.

Hartz is in his element with this complex character, keeping him easy to root for as both the generous noble of the first act and the wild man in the woods of the second. Shea is a worthy foil; McCord is sharp as the faithful servant; and Tristan Ross takes on yet another Shakespeare role with ease as the exiled Athenian general Alcibiades. Notable are Bradford Reilly and Taylor Cox as the painter and poet who seek Timon’s patronage for a life of leisure, but all are well cast, including Tom Weingartner, David Mosedale, Allyson Womack and Minnie Ryder.

As both parable and intriguing drama, “Timon” is worth making the effort to see, and kudos to Ross for tackling the difficult job of polishing this rare gem. Upcoming performances are 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15; and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17.

The festival also hosts performances of the comedy “As You Like It” by First Folio and the tragedy of “Othello” by Garfield Shakespeare Company. In addition, Ross hosts Shakespeare trivia contests during the festival, as well as a performance of her latest Fringe play, “Hell’s 4th Ring: The Mall Musical” at 11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17.

The stage is located at 15 First Ave. NE in the Carmel downtown Arts and Design District (former location of Carmel Community Players). For information and tickets, visit the the Carmel Theatre Company website.