STORY WRITTEN BY M. ENGLISH/For 21st Century Media
“Dark of the Moon” is scheduled to take over Skippack’s Playcrafters theater now through Nov. 15. But action film fans take note. You won’t find Autobots battling Decepticons over Cybertronian spacecraft on this lunar landscape. No Optimus Prime, Shockwave, Sam Witwicky or NEST military types, either.
Playcrafters’ “Dark of the Moon,” written by Howard Richardson in 1939, has its share of otherworldly references. However, those references are a different kind of scary from the mayhem that drives installment three – “Dark of the Moon” – in the popular “Transformers” movie franchise.
Richardson based his relatively obscure drama on a traditional European folk song called “The Ballad of Barbara Allen.” Set in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, the play tells the tale of a “witch boy” called John (Scott McMaster) who falls in love with a human – the comely Barbara Allen (Kendal Conrad). The relationship is opposed by witches and humans alike, but John agrees to a deal with magical Conjur Woman who, in turn, makes him human.
Naturally, there’s a hitch or two along the way as John courts and, then, marries Barbara. The fickle Appalachian beauty must remain faithful to her new husband for a year, and…well, the conservative mountain folk they live among don’t exactly take kindly to either John or the couple’s newborn “witch baby.” In fact, fans of happy endings might do better to check out the dark side of Transformers’ moon.
Richardson’s play was initially performed as “Barbara Allen” at the University of Iowa in 1942. It was later rewritten by William Berney, Richardson’s cousin, and opened at New York’s 46th Street Theatre on March 14, 1945. Playbill’s archives note the production logged 318 performances before its Dec. 15, 1945 closing. According to Richardson’s Jan. 1, 1985 obituary in the New York Times, “The play had two Off Broadway revivals and became something of a cult piece for theater groups and on college campuses since its first introduction at the University of Iowa in 1942.”
Why did Playcrafters decide to stage it?
For starters, the “many ages of its characters made it perfect for a community theater,” said Director Lori Maxwell, seen onstage as Rebecca Nurse during Playcrafters’ late summer run of “The Crucible.”
“The show really is an ensemble cast, and each member is suited for their role in their own unique way.”
That a number of those characters are witches doesn’t hurt, Maxwell adds.
“It’s Halloween so the theme fits right in.”
Some reviewers have likened the star-crossed lovers in “Dark of the Moon” to iconic romantics Romeo and Juliet.
“An interesting twist on a love story,” Maxwell agrees, although “it really is about fearing what you don’t understand and the mob mentality that goes with it.”
Playcrafters’ “Dark of the Moon” cast also includes Pat McGurk (Uncle Smelicue), Lisa Gazzillo (Conjur Woman), Michele Nicolay (Dark Witch), Janene Gibbons (Edna Summey), Renee Johnson (Ella), Florence Wydra-Gat (Fair Witch), Jared Pinkham (Floyd Allen), Jaiden Herbetko (Greeny), Nic Herbetko (Atkins), Sean Collins (Hand Gudger), John Lawrence (Marvin Hudgens), Denni Herbetko (Miss Metcalf), Michelle Quigley (Mrs. Allen), Andrew Maksymowych (Mr. Allen), Joe Welsh (Conjur Man), Jean Navarra-Gibbons (Mrs. Summey), Mark Glicksman (Mr. Summey), Eric Rupp (Rev. Haggler) and Evan Sherwood (Mr. Bergen).
Cathy Carroll and Courtney Katz are the production’s co-producers, and Diane Van Hekken is overseeing costuming. Performances continue on Nov. 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. Matinees on Nov. 2 and 9 begin at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $17 and can be purchased online at www.playcrafters.org. Playcrafters barn theater is located at 2011 Store Road, Skippack. Additional information is available at (610) 584-4005.