Legendary theatre man George M. Cohan enjoyed reading bad plays and seeing bad productions. He said you could learn from them what not to do. Seeing this revival of the classic Howard Richardson and William Berney folklore drama could be a lesson for any theatre person for that same reason. The mistakes are abundant and far outbalance the few right moments.
At its core the play is poetic, based on the poem "The Ballad of Barbara Allen," in which a mountain witch-boy falls in love with Barbara and yearns to be human so their relationship could be fulfilled. It is told with the lyrical touch of legend and a magical mixture of reality and dream. That's the first thing co-directors Rosalyn Grossan and Scott Tracy Griffin don't get. As so often happens with this play, the townspeople are rarely real, with most of the actors doing a hyper Dogpatch caricature, a Beverly Hillbillies version of mountain folk. There goes a lot of the magic right off, not helped by dreadfully slow rhythms and pauses between lines we could drive a bus through.
Along the way the directors stumble even more. Griffin has miscast himself as John, the witch-boy. He is too mature in looks and manner for the role. This is a rural Romeo and Juliet tale best portrayed by very young actors. Griffin would be better cast as Barbara's father, Pa Allen, a role Griffin played in 1986. Ensemble member Beau Puckett would be better cast here; he is young, vibrant, and provides some of the evening's livelier moments in the accompanying folk-music sections. And Griffin looks a little silly in the opening scene, shirtless and wearing tight International Male pants, not at all the garb of a mountain boy, witch or not.
Cindy Conway is better cast as Barbara but is never able to create much chemistry with her John, a good performance that doesn't connect. In supporting roles, Cindy Clark is pretty realistic as the midwife, and Christopher David Gill has a couple of very good moments as Barbara's other suitor, while Joel King's stolid Preacher Haggler is a close miss as a country cleric. Griffin's shiny pants are well-matched by Thomas Santiago's ludicrous transvestite Conjur Woman, who comes off more as an MTV diva than a dark vision of the powers of the night.
"Dark of the Moon," presented by Praesto Productions at the Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Sept. 14-Oct. 21. $15-18. (310) 289-2999.