Contributing Critic - New York City
We all want to predict the future. Everyone has wanted to know where they are going to be in a year or two or ten. When things are going bad, we hope for something better, when things are good, we hope for it to stay that way. This is the basic idea around “Divination”. Written by Dorian Palumbo, “Divination”, tells the story of a group of women who meet at a “Mediumship” class. They are all dealing with their own struggles and worries and over the course of the play, they use the class as a way to attempt to take control of the madness of everyday life. When newcomer, Tara Cornfeld (Yating Sun), enters the class in the hopes that she will better her career with her new-found “knowledge”, the group welcomes her in with open arms. Though, Tara soon realizes that possessing this gift might cause more problems than it solves.
Where this show really shined was in it’s ensemble. For the most part, you felt that each woman came in to the class with her own specific problems, and the play is at it’s best when these problems intersect with the problems of the others in the class and the women are forced to work together, in order to overcome the trials of their lives.
However, the show did suffer from a rather slow pacing at times. There are many moments in which scenes feel particularly slow moving and quiet, as if the actors are cutting us out of the conversation. Though, there was one scene towards the end of the play that took such a surprising departure from the rest of the show, that I was compelled to the edge of my seat. Having each of the women in the class deliver a tear-jerking monologue as they confront the very things that they hoped the class would solve was a very powerful image and beautifully acted.
Performance-wise, I again, very much enjoyed the cast as an ensemble, you really got the sense that the actors were working with each other to build that sense of community. Though, it did seem like Tara never really felt like a part of the group. This made her eventual mastery of the practice and leadership of the group feel slightly inorganic. It seems that the women who have been in the class for as long as the other four women, would still be providing mentorship to someone who has only just began. Sun also seemed to be stuck in an expression of anger throughout the play, which made it hard to feel that there was any connection to the others on stage. Though, one particular standout performance was Christina Dewar as the british bride-to-be, Louise Overstreet. From the moment Dewar stepped on stage in Louise’s over-positive, sing-songy voice, she gave life to whatever scene she was in. Many of those scenes that felt slow moving sprang to life as soon as she opened her mouth.
The ideas expressed in this play were both comforting and frightening. It expresses an idea that there is always something coming and that it could be good or it could be bad but as soon as one comes, you can bet the other will follow. These are very profound and thought-provoking ideas and choosing a mediumship class as the setting for telling that story is very compelling. “Divination” is not a perfect play, but it expresses ideas that are often thought about with an ensemble of unique individuals dealing with the struggles that we deal with everyday. I hope as the play continues to evolve that it will not lose sight of these wonderfully fascinating ideas.
“Divination” is written by Dorian Palumbo and directed by Ken Coughlin.
It features: Esther Ayomide Akinsanya, Yating Sun, Christina Dewar, London Griffith, Abigail Choi Arader, and Meredith Rust
Performances run October 31st through November 11th, Wednesday through Saturday at 8PM and Sunday at 3PM at the American Theatre of Actors (314 West 54th Street New York, NY 10019) in the Sargent Theatre.