"The Diviners," the second entry in this year's American College Theatre Festival, is another play about a disability and another play about the supernatural and -- miracle of miracles -- a fresh, smart, crafty-piece of theater.
Buddy, the idiot boy hero of Jim Leonard Jr.'s fable, talks about himself in the third person. He even sings about himself in the third person. To wit: "You are his sunshine, his only sunshine, you make him happy when skies are grey . . ."
His only complaint -- his constant complaint -- is that "his dogs itch" -- meaning his feet, they itch because Buddy nearly drowned a few years back and doesn't believe in washing or water. As a result (a strange result, but a result nevertheless), he is so sensitive to the onslaught of wet that he can divine it in the ground or the wind. So when the townspeople of Zion, Ind. (pop. 40, c. 1930) want to know if it's going to rain, or where to dig a well, they just ask Buddy.
It's a setup that seems to make everybody happy, until an ex-preacher named C.C. Showers drifts into town, "a little on the lost side" and in search of work. Showers immediately becomes the darling of Zion's womenfolk, who see the town as badly in need of religion, and Showers as the cure. But this unborn-again Christian has vowed to give up preaching.
Even so, he can't resist trying to rid poor Buddy of his itch by teaching him the value of washing. "The water's not gonna hurt you, pal," says Showers.
"It's not?" says Buddy skeptically.
"No," Showers explains, "it's too busy being' water to do much else."
Buddy's reeducation leads to a tragic finish, with sour implications regarding religion and, perhaps, the general advisability of lending a helping hand.
Not every member of the Hanover College cast is up to the demands of Leonard's play, but John Geter, as Buddy, certainly is. Under Tom Evan's direction, "The Diviners" is not only impressive in college theater festival context but looks like it could handle just about any context.
Like Leonard and Evans, the Brandeis University team responsible for "Personals," the third and current show of the festival, is back for a second year in a row. And true to form, these Brandels students and alumni have produced a very slick, very fast, very Eastern show to counterpoint the rural, Midwestern, easy-talking "Diviners."
"Personals" is a revue inspired by the personal classified columns of the Village People Voice ("Well-equipped animal seeks sensational partner for intensive petting," and so forth. Even unaltered and unadorned, the ads make for extremely entertaining acting exercises, and "Personals" manages to be funny, penetrating and even poignant for the better part of an act.
But the show has a second act too, and promptly goes all to pieces. It gradually becomes clear that the authors have no real point of view toward their material, beyond gratitude for its comic value.