Pepperdine puts on two diverse theater events

“The Diviners” is a cleverly staged thought provoker and “SwingDance America” gets feet tapping.

By Caroline Thomas/Special to The Malibu Times

The stages of Pepperdine’s theaters were filled with a wide range of entertainment last weekend. At the Smother’s Theatre, swing dancers rocked the house, and next-door at the intimate Lindhurst Theatre, Pepperdine students staged a gritty drama titled “The Diviners.”

A small Indiana town struggling through the Depression sets the stage for “The Diviners.” A disturbed boy named Buddy Layman has lost his mother in a drowning accident but, despite his manic dread of water, he ironically finds the gift of divining. Brian Jones plays the boy with compelling frailty and angst, reminiscent of Lennie in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

Equally convincing is Christopher Ragland as the disillusioned preacher, C.C. Showers. He reluctantly gives Buddy and the town new hopes with his confident stature and light-hearted nature.

“I’ll milk the chickens and I’ll pluck the cows,” he jokes, while searching for any work besides preaching.

Some remarkable singing, staging and humor offset the gloomy downward spiral of this community. Clay Reed is endearing and comedic as the awkward young farmhand, Dewey Maples. His opening line to get a girl to go to the dance with him is, “I don’t love you or nothin’, but … ” She attends, despite the awkward invitation, and Dewey’s gawky dance rehearsal has the audience in hysterics.

After the high drama of “The Diviners,” a night of high-energy dance was welcome and provided by “SwingDance America.” The show is a live-action archive of this dance form that is truly American. From the Charleston to the Jitterbug, the 10 talented performers showcase swing-style dancing and the music that inspired each generation to take to the dance floor.

“Go Daddy-O,” and “Rock This Town” (now a classic swing standard and written by Malibuite Brian Setzer) started off the night with a rousing introduction to the troupe. From there, an entertaining history lesson began with the music and dance of a century gone by.

The dance numbers were as lively as their monikers: Lindy Hop, Jive, Carolina Shag, the Shim Sham, Texas Push, Boogie Woogie and Big Apple. The unmistakable influence of jazz greats like Duke Ellington came to life with “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” where Apollo Champions Mel Waller and Antonio Bruton strutted their stuff. Later, the crowd-pleasing duo showed off their D.C. Hand Dance and even a little ’70s style disco.

The crowning moment of the evening was an unscheduled appearance by the cabaret champions of the recent U.S. Open Swing competition-Cate Caplin and Murray Phillips. They recently beat out a pair who some regard as the best dancers in the world, and their exquisite expertise and panache took the audience by surprise.

“SwingDance America’s” evolution of a uniquely American dance and “The Diviner’s” evolution of a struggling Hoosier town showed off Pepperdine’s ability to provide audiences with all types of theater. Two divergent shows bring Malibu’s stages to life.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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