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New York Theater

Dark of the Moon

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Dark of the Moon simmers with provocative themes and motifs. Taking off on the folk ballad "Barbara Allen," the play by Howard Richardson and William Berney mixes folkloric supernatural elements with sexuality, religion, and xenophobia into a vibrant dramatic stew. It was first produced on Broadway in 1945 and went on to popularity on the university and amateur theatre circuit, with its expansive dramatis personae providing colorful roles for large casts. During its big crowd scenes, this production, part of the inaugural offering of a company dubbed Phare Play Productions, indeed crams more than 20 performers onto the stage of its tiny Off-Off-Broadway venue. And thanks to the ingenious staging of director Blake Bradford, the actors aren't falling over each other.

Still, the production only offers a small taste of the script's haunting quality. The story tells of John the witch boy, who happily inhabits Old Baldy in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains, riding his eagle and cavorting with witch women until he falls in love with a spirited village gal named Barbara Allen and begs a couple of conjurers to make him human. John gets his wish and marries Barbara Allen, but his presence as a mysterious stranger among the tight-knit, superstitious townspeople leads to eventual tragedy.

In the central roles, a remarkably agile Kevin Sebastian as John and Emily Mostyn-Brown as Barbara Allen offer a tender portrait of young love, but the wildness and sexual electricity of their relationship are pretty much missing. Scenes among the various townspeople, along with overly extended musical segments, often degenerate into a stereotypical hillbilly mode resembling TV's Hee Haw, breaking the script's steady build of tension. Nevertheless, the story is told in fairly clear fashion, and the atmospheric production is enhanced by Florencio Flores Palomo's set, Pam Gittlitz's lighting, and bucolic period costumes by Carrie Colden. It's a commendable effort -- but not bewitching.

Presented by Phare Play Productions

at Lodestar Theatre, 616 Ninth Ave., NYC.

Feb. 23-March 18. Mon., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.

(646) 241-0823 (reservations only) or (212) 352-3101 or www.theatremania.com.

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