Three gifts & “The Diviners”

I spoke many years ago at a memorial service for my mother, who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer just a few short months after diagnosis.

I thought beforehand about how to convey all that she’s meant to me in a short period of time—knowing many others would want, and need, the time to do the same.

I was reminded of the service, a celebration of life really, as I drove home from Theatre Artists Studio last night.

Reflecting on “The Diviners,” a play set in a tiny 1929 town, a single word finally settled into the silence of the night…


SCC's "The Diviners" is a soothing light in a sometimes dark night

I’d spoken at my mother’s service of the three gifts she gave me as a child—three gifts I carry with me to this day: Gratitude, optimism and determination.

I felt I’d been given these gifts anew after seeing “The Diviners,” a play written by Jim Leonard, Jr.—now a writer and producer for the Showtime series “Dexter”—when he was a 19-year-old freshman at Hanover College in Indiana.

I’m struck by so many things after experiencing this work.

The back of the program says the following (referring to the theatre arts program at Scottsdale Community College): The empty space. Fill it.

It could just as easily read the opposite: The full space. Empty it.

As the work drew to a dramatic close—my heartbeat, my breathing—felt momentarily suspended.

The clutter of the day was washed away. The emptiness, like the play itself, was poignant and profound. Yet light, delicate. Not heavy.

SCC”s “The Diviners” is all-consuming, but never overbearing.

Each element of a production both pristine and passionate is there—directing that transports you from your seat into the very heart of the story; acting that harkens to both past and future while grounding each witness to the now; creative elements that serve the story without embellishment.

If you experience only a single piece of theater this season, make it “The Diviners,” which ends its two week run all too quickly after 2pm and 7pm performances today.

The venue (located near Paradise Valley Mall) is spectacular but small so seats can go quickly—and tickets run just $10 ($8 for students/seniors).

Like my mother, this play will stay with me for a long time.

I am grateful to directors Randy Messersmith and Daniel Good for bringing this work to life, and to all the cast and crew who’ve given me plenty to ponder in its aftermath…

Is heaven up above, deep within or all around us? When is the cure worse than the ailment? Can the selfish replicate the results of the sincere? Why do some see a blessing where others see a curse?

Should we distain our differences or our sameness? Does the value of a machine ever outweigh the value of a man? Why do some see signs where others see none? Who are the truly damaged among us?

For all its serious subject matter—economic hardship, religious doubt, childhood loss, helplessness and guilt, mixed feelings about vulnerable siblings and more—the play has plenty of lighthearted moments.

Imagine a former preacher explaining to his love interest that the air bubbles they’re witnessing while fishing are actually “fish farts.” Or two adolescent boys learning to dance with one another before trying their hand at dancing with girls.

Picture a world full of “Schwinns” but devoid of SUVs. Or the moral perils of “fancy dancing.” Or a reticent prayer consisting of “Thanks for the donut!” (It’s also a world full of “cussing” so take note if this is something your children might be too young for.)

Gratitude, optimism, determination…

It’s always good to be reminded.


Note: Today I’m seeing “Tomato Plant Girl” performed by Childsplay at Tempe Center for the Arts, so look for a review of that show tomorrow. This is the final weekend for “Tomato Plant Girl,” so don’t delay if you’ve been meaning to see this baby.

Coming up: Spotlight on upcoming community college productions (featuring dance, music, theater and more)—including some taking place this week!

Photo credit: SCC student Christopher Trimble


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