Drama teacher Derek Heid has immense confidence in his students at Temecula Valley High School. He’s so sure of their maturity and ability that he’s got them taking on Jim Leonard Jr.’s “The Diviners."
The play will likely – hopefully – leave the audience in tears when the TVHS drama students bring it to the school's big, new theater in November.
The play is not a musical and it’s not light fare. Set in a depression-era Indiana small town, Leonard’s 1980 work is not about “sensational circumstances or extraordinary people, but the way ordinary people act in different situations,” according to a Sept. 1993 Chicago Reader review of the play after it opened at the city’s Mayfair United Methodist Church.
It follows 11 characters in the little town who discover revelation and tragedy.
Arguably, the central player in “The Diviners” is Buddy Layman, a mentally challenged boy portrayed by junior Alyssa Bertsch in the TVHS production.
“She sold the duality of the character,” Heid said of the part going to a female, noting Bertsch showed the qualities of innocence and fear.
Bertsch will likely lean heavily on fellow actor Brinn Tomlinson for support. The TVHS senior performed under Heid last year and is a leader in the school’s drama department. She plays Jennie Mae Layman in the show -- Buddy’s older sister -- a relationship that will likely play out in real life.
The role of C.C. Showers went to seasoned TVHS actor Cristian Barba, a senior. Unlike most of the other players, Barba targeted a specific role in the production. C.C. is a former preacher who befriends Buddy and makes eyes with Jennie Mae.
“I like him. He made me smile,” Barba said when he read the role. “There was a part of me that could relate to him – he’s caring.”
AshLynn Dawn is a TVHS senior. When asked who in the class plans to continue acting outside of TVHS, all hands pointed to her. She is taking on the ambitious role of flirtatious Darlene Henshaw in “The Diviners.” The part is complicated: Darlene lives with her aunt and is seeking love with anyone who will give her attention.
When asked how she is preparing for the role, Dawn said she thinks most people can relate to the character.
“I think everyone has a piece of Darlene – the loneliness. Everyone wants to feel loved,” she said.
In addition to her role in “The Diviners,” Dawn currently has a part in the Old Town Temecula Theater production of “The Sound of Music.”
Look for TVHS junior Michael Miller in the role of Ferris Layman in “The Diviners.” With a deep, authoritative voice, Miller is playing the 40-something father of Buddy and Jennie Mae.
To prepare for the role, Miller is trying to draw upon the closeness he feels with his real-life nieces and nephews. But playing a middle-aged man is not easy, Miller explained.
“Forty-five-year-olds even move differently,” he said with all seriousness.
Jesse Barajas is a senior at TVHS and has never been in a production, but Heid saw something in him.
“I definitely wanted him on the stage. I had him in mind from day one,” Heid said, adding that Barajas was cast as farmhand Melvin Wilder in the production.
Kevin Beall, a TVHS junior, is also new to performing. He landed the role of Dewey Maples, a farmhand who’s in love with the character of Darlene. With the help of Melvin, Dewey learns how to talk to girls and works to woo Darlene.
All the cast members Patch spoke with acknowledged that the experience gained with the TVHS drama department is helping make them more confident in all aspects of their lives.
Heid said all his students have come along, but they’ve stayed grounded during the journey. They were picked to star in “The Diviners” because of their hard work, he explained.
“They don’t have big heads,” Heid continued, “and they are damn decent human beings.”"The Diviners" runs November 1, 2, 14, 15, and 16 at 7 p.m. at the Temecula Valley High School theatre, 31555 Rancho Vista Road. Tickets are $8 at the door. For more information, click here.