The New Depot Players recently wrapped their first 2015 offering, "The Diviners," a gutsy gamble they positively nailed. Jim Leonard Jr.'s play set in depression-era rural Indiana tells the inspiring, tragic tale of Buddy Layman, a brain-damaged boy whose short life is bookended by drowning disasters. The first resulted in the loss of his mother and rendered him severely phobic of water - even bathing is an issue - yet he has a talent for "divining" water sources. The second drowning resulted in his death.
'Twas a storytelling feat helmed by director Jay Tryall with a cast of 12, all who remain on the small stage of an 80-odd seat Blackbox theatre for the length of the performance. Tryall's staging vision was elegantly executed by lighting and technical guru Tyson White and "props mistress" Willa Kerr.
"Jay has this amazing ability to convey his conceptualization to the cast that makes them excited and eager to express it to our audiences. He constantly posed questions inspiring us to connect with our characters, which was crucial in delivering convincing performances," said Vanessa Outlaw, a.k.a. Jennie Mae, Buddy's sister.
Though it's bleak material told in elegies and flashbacks of events from the townspeople, the play shined with high notes from a unique cast of characters. Anchoring it all was the preternatural performance of Eastside High student Andrew Fish, simply riveting as Buddy.
"Andrew is an impressively intelligent and emotionally connected sixteen year old," said Outlaw, "He's a fearless actor throwing himself completely into his character. His talent is obvious, but his trusting nature and honesty make him special." The moonlighting attorney should know - she's also an accomplished actress, in this role and any old part she's cast in.
The play's climax and other defining moments are set in motion by the arrival of C. C. Showers to town, a former preacher on the lam from his calling, played with signature earnestness and authenticity by Matt Tryall. C. C. connects with Buddy and becomes a mentor as he works for his mechanic father, Ferris, played by the magnetic Charles Swartout. C. C. also attracts notice from several female residents - Jennie Mae, Norma, who wants to re-establish a church, and Goldie, the diner's owner who thinks a church will increase Sunday traffic. NDP's sublime stalwarts, Amber McCullough and Patty Maguire, portray these interests perfectly.
The entire cast is key in the story's success. The farmer in need of Buddy's talents, Basil, and his skeptical wife, Luella, are marvelously sent up by Tom Harrison and Cyndi Evans. Devin Bradford Bacon and Jeremiah Davison are eminently engaging as farm hands, as are Gina Hay Bryan and Abby Sherrin, rounding out the townfolk.
The final scene, a misperceived baptism resulting in Buddy's fatal drowning, is realized in a surprisingly believable achievement in physical and emotional acting.
Though our town is identified by a vampire show and several A-list film productions, it's true theatric heart was established 39 years ago in a ramshackle train depot. A legacy kept alive in four live productions every year.
Next up is "Sugar Bean Sisters" in late April. For more information, go to www.thenewdepotplayers.com or visit their Facebook page.