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Beyond Redemption

Dark of the Moon Directed by Leo-Pierre Roy At the Loeb, through Oct. 27

By Robert O. Boorstin

FOR GIVE THEM. For even those actors who never sinned on the stage before don't stand a chance with this cardboard American morality play, Dark of the Moon. Not a chance, "I reckon" (to quote the pet phrase of the playwrights) with all the "fers, plumbs and cottonwood-blooming times" and a script that should burn in the fires of hell. And while they wallow in this sty of Appalachia, adultery and brimstone (and anything else moral that you happen to think of), do not spurn them for their transgressions, for the performance was near as good what mortals might have done. But what a stupid story.

A simple plot, by all accounts, about "a witch who wanted to be human and the gal he witched who weren't true." But, as the good Lord says, those who know not of what they speak should shut the hell up. Who, after all, are these men, Howard Richardson and William Berney, who pervert morality onto a framework that cannot stand its weight? It's an exhausted tale of witches and lovers and hillbillies, a sinnin' and a rollin' in the hay and a borin' you to tears. And you the congregation knows what will happen and have no reason to care.

Stand up and purge yourself of your sins, director Leo-Pierre Roy. Many in the actors' congregation have told us tales of woe, of low morale. Your failure to inspire your flock is all too evident. You have broken the first of the commandments, for the play drags in many places and you have used a moaning chorus to create "atmosphere" where there is none. Your blocking is unimaginative and you have lost your sense of transition somewhere along the road. By the time we sit through five songs, the heavy-handed confessions in the revival scene and a predictable climax, we stifle yawns and repent the evening.

FEAR NOT, actors, for where there are no characters to speak of, you have done your damndest...I reckon. Marc T. Johnson, although he struggles through the opening, improves in the course of the evening. If Johnson has made too much of a two-dimensional character (why are you in love with Barbara Allen?), it is not his fault. Kate Silverman as Barbara Allen does yeoman's service to an unimaginative role. If the scene in the bedroom after she has given birth to a witch is overdone, she's not to blame.

Townspeople of Buck Creek and witches, you have tried valiantly, and some of you have done the best you could. Several of the roles, however, just don't belong in this play. As the two witches, Bonnie Zimmering and Crystal Terry are lithe and successful dancers, but after two or three appearances and calls of "you'll be sorry," we are too. David Moore, who doubles as Preacher Haggler and Conjur Man, is unoriginal as, respectively, the stereotyped holy-roller and evil wizard. He is stock in his mannerisms and gestures, unseasoned on the stage. While Laura Rogerson and Ralph Zito shine in minor roles, John Smith as the hulking, rassling Marvin Hudgens is as shallow as one would expect. Smith should learn that it is not enough to turn red in the face before admitting to lust in his heart.

If Dark of the Moon's characters are hollow, the stage atmosphere compensates and redeems Music director David L. Reiffel, however, has turned an already obvious plot into a play that has the subtlety of a bulldozer. You know when somebody says something prophetic (thunder claps in the background) and you know when the witches are coming (bizarre piano medleys screech behind the gauze curtains). The best musicians, meanwhile--banjo and fiddle players Thornton Lewis and Matthew Brown--make one stage appearance and, sad to say, disappear.

SET DESIGNER Derek McLane has a fascinating concept in the slanting plank floor and versatile wooden rhombus platform that defines the scene. But his imitation of a forest looks more like one of those soap machines that scrapes across your windshield at a roll-up-the-windows car wash. McLane's platform, moreover, makes for awkward inter-scene set changes, with podiums, benches and other pieces of furniture rolling down the platform and jerking to a stop (as the audience counts its lucky stars). Light designer Rachel Pasch has done an adequate, if not sterling job, fighting as she has with the redundant blocking.

Somewhere in this melange of mysticism and morality lurks some talent. But the actors don't have a prayer in the hands of Richardson and Berney. As the midwife says to the ailing sinner, Barbara Allen, lying on the bed after bearing her witch-child, "It ain't yer fault. It were the fruit of yer husband. There weren't nothing you could do."

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