At the Shubert

Down in the Great Smoky country of Tennessee, the mountain folk tell tall tales about black nights when witch boys mount the bald eagle's back to glide over jutting stone peaks. "Dark of the Moon" captures the God-fearing earthiness of the hill people, and puts a thoroughly American legend on the stage with poetic artistry, pungent humor, and lusty music straight from the core of native balladry.

Following "Oklahoma" and "Sing Out, Sweet Land," "Dark of the Moon" stands out as an utterly different variety of Americana that banks for its appeal not on song or humor or tone alone, but on a coherent blend of the three. It steals into the imagination in a salty sort of way at the opening curtain and leaves one feeling he has really glimpsed a hearty chunk of our nation's spirit.

There is fantasy, sweeping and bleak, on the top of Baldy Mountain when John the Witch Boy crawls up from his Stygian haunts to search for his mountain lass; tangy amusement at the cracker barrel and at the revival meeting. There is rollicking music from the deep throats of the mountaineers in church, singing "Lonesome Valley" to save a boy and girl who "pleasured themselves" indiscreetly; and there is delicate ballet in an aura of the supernatural when Lista, the Dark Witch, and Croma, the Fair Witch, jealous of Barbara Allen--"we ain't got nothin' again her, only we just as soon she's daid"--flit by John in the forest, flaunting their sensuous beauty, mocking his effort to escape the fetters of Hell and assume human form.

To make the success complete, a virtually unknown cast of young hopefuls executes with competence and enthusiasm the work of young writers, Howard Richardson and William Berney, a young composer, Walter Hendl, and young directorial talent. Carol Stone looks delightfully untamed; Richard Hart darts through his witchery with fiery grace and makes the play's seriousness very credibly unaffected. ssh


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