Divination – O. Henry Meets Spiritualism

Geri Wheatcroft (Meredith Rust) leads a workshop in “Mediumship and Divination” above a shop that seems to carry holistic and spiritual items. Each of its participants has something of a talent she wants to better understand and hone; all are casual about the inexplicable. They seem familial, like a long-term book club.

The house belongs to Michelle (Esther Ayomide Akinsanya) whose apparently unwelcome visions of the dead began when she was a child. “All my life I’ve been seeing crazy shit like that.” Michelle has had a tough time and thinks of the shop as her last hurrah. Unfortunately, local gypsies are making it clear they want her gone.

Chirpy, bride-to-be Louise (Christina Dewar) used her sixth sense to save the life of her sister, Giovanna’s (London Griffith) prescient dreams revealed that her beloved husband had cancer. Also in the group is Abigail (Badriyah Kennedy), a quiet healer who intuits and salves health issues. They’re pointedly an international bunch.

Meredith Rust, London Griffith, Badriyah Kennedy

Into their midst, like an angry bull in a china shop, comes Tara (Yating Sun), facing numerous traumas. The end of her marriage means she has to move out of her home. Her tenuous employment and the burden of student loans adds up to considerable stress. Tara is in denial about her own gifts, yet drawn to the possibility they might help her achieve stability. She joins the group.

“The future doesn’t exist,” Geri tells them. “Past, present, future are all part of the now. That’s why the future leaks into the present and some have premonitions.” A calm, refreshingly represented leader, she talks about exorcising a poltergeist in the toilet as if checking off a grocery list. Beliefs, chants, books and spells evidence playwright research. This is not an airy faerie piece. Practice is taken seriously.

One day Tara finds herself possessed in the middle of a job conference, unnerves the interviewer with startling disclosures, ruins the likelihood of advancement, and is ostracized by her peers. Predictably, assumption is that information was gathered on the net and that Tara was attempting to scam her superior. “You had a psychic experience when you least expected it,” Geri shrugs. “It’s happened to all of us.” Tara is, however, determined to rectify the situation.

Five women (Geri is away) are talked into pooling their powers for the wrong reason. The universe responds respectively upending their lives, yet when the smoke clears…Here’s where O. Henry, known for unexpected endings, comes in. “I love that this is not a stupid universe,” Geri comments discovering the fallout of what occurred. “It does things for a reason.”

The group dynamic weighs in with its relationship to the powers that be. Openness, acceptance, connection, and integrity are paramount. Listen to the spheres, listen to yourself.

       Badriyah Kennedy, London Griffith, Christina Dewar, Meredith Rust,                                Esther Ayomide Akinsanya

Whether you choose to perceive the ladies’ powers as actual or look at the piece as a character study, it’s entertaining, but sketchy. We want to know more about these idiosyncratic women so we care about what happens to them. Perhaps something longer with additional, revealing efforts to tap into the cosmos? There’s meat and imagination here. It just needs some work.

The production itself is hit or miss. It looks like very spare, community theater.  Yating Sun, as Tara, overacts. The others all ebb and flow. Meredith Rust and Badriyah Kennedy are most consistent and developed.

Ken Coughlin’s direction is yeoman-like. A ceremony conducted off stage and represented by blurry video seems gimmicky and distancing.

Photos by Dorian Palumbo
Opening: London Griffith, Badriyah Kennedt, behind-Esther Ayomide Akinsanya, Yating Sun

Divination by Dorian Palumbo
Directed by Ken Couglin
American Theater of Actors
314 West 54th Street
Through November 11, 2018

About Alix Cohen (987 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.