Water has a pretty good reputation. It sustains all life on the planet. It keeps our crops, lawns, gardens, and pets alive. It keeps our bodies clean, cools them down, and provides hour of recreation. The very survival of the ancient Egyptians depended on the annual flooding of the Nile. Christians use water to symbolize spiritual cleansing, and Pagans work with this same power when they acknowledge “the living waters of her womb.”
Scientists talk about Earth being in the “Goldilocks Zone,” the small region of space just far enough away from the sun that water can exist in liquid form. Any closer and you have steam. Any farther, and you have ice. Earth’s distance from the sun is “just right” for life to exist.
Of course, it’s pretty well loved as one of the four elements, too. We talk of water as relating to love, compassion, connection, and healing. The moon, probably the heavenly body most adored by pagans, corresponds to water. Water corresponds to psychic work in many systems. All in all, that’s a pretty good day for one substance.
But then water, like any element, has its dark side. All of the elements can kill, and tragedies like Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Japan and Indonesia remind us that water is no exception. Water may be the ultimate reminder that what gives life can also take it away. Elementally, water’s dark side can include emotions like fear, anger, and jealousy. Water reflects our images as we are, not as we want to be. Oceans, especially western ones, represent death in some belief systems.
The Diviners, the current offering at Mysterium Theater, incorporates all aspects of water. There is deep love in this play. Love is present in many of its forms. There is the protective, parental love that Ferris Layman (Tom Royer) clearly shows for his mentally challenged son, Buddy (Andrew Paskil). That love is fueled on an even deeper level by the unhealed wound of losing his beloved wife.
There is the fierce, protective love that Buddy’s sister, Jennie Mae (Amanda Riisager), shows for her brother. Perhaps most importantly, there is the healing bond of love that connects Buddy to CC Showers (Mike Detrow), a vagabond ex-preacher who arrives in town seeking escape from his own demons and a baptism into a new life.
There is also a very watery connection of trust the local farmers feel for Buddy. Water is irrational; working with it requires intuition. One of the play’s themes, brought out most often by the character of Basil (Robert P. Purcell), is to trust intuition and feeling over rampant industrialization. The play begins with Buddy using a divining rod to find water, and then predicting the approach of a storm, all over the scoffing of other (rational) townsfolk. But Basil trusts Buddy’s special connection to water to an almost mystical extent, perhaps because of his distrust for over-rational modern thinking.
Buddy, of course, is the play’s central character, through whom all of the water flows. His special connection to water comes at a price however. His mother drowned trying to save him, and he can sense her in the water around him. But while he can find water by seeking out his mother in the world around him, he is terribly afraid of the precious liquid. This fear, an aspect of water’s dark connection to emotions, keeps him from bathing, quickens disease, and ultimately brings him face to face with mortality. Water is Buddy’s gift; it is also his shadow.
The other main character in the play, CC, is Buddy’s other half. CC’s preaching was infected with thought instead of feeling, language instead of emotion. Where a good preacher can get the crowd up and rolling in a sermon-induced frenzy, CC was too controlled by his rational mind to let go and whip up a good revival. Where Buddy feels, CC thinks. Where Buddy trusts, CC analyzes. Where Buddy loves, CC fears.
Coming together is the perfect healing opportunity for both of them. They teach each other. Buddy brings CC the gifts of perfect love and childish trust. CC acts as friend and mentor to Buddy, helping him come to terms with his fear of water and trying to help the boy understand the world from a more adult point of view. They complement each other.
But full healing requires full submersion, and CC resists complete submersion into the local town life just as much as Buddy resists the submersion in the river that would heal his wounds. Buddy resists physical water, which would heal him. CC resists elemental water, in the form of love and acceptance, which would heal him too. Eventually, we come to the climactic moment in which the two must come together as one beneath the water’s surface.
Mysterium’s production hits all the right notes. The set is sparse, allowing the audience to focus on the themes of the piece. These are simple, honest people, and the actors engage that honesty in a very poignant way. Although Buddy and CC take center stage, this production subtly hints that each person is living their own lives, with their own struggles, needing their own healing.
Water can heal and water can hurt. It does both in The Diviners. At that final, tragic moment, both CC and Buddy touch the depths of life’s pain. The play’s message seems to be to find balance. Wade in life’s cool, cleansing waters and you will find love and joy. Avoid them for fear of pain, and you will end up stuck at rock bottom, “like a drop of rain flowing to the ocean.”