Review: Dark of the Moon (New American Folk Theatre)

| June 14, 2014
Jeff Kurysz and Sarah Gise star in New American Folk Theatre's "Dark of the Moon" by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by Anthony Whitaker and Jamal Howard.        
      
Dark of the Moon

By Howard Richardson and William Berney  
Directed by Anthony Whittaker and Jamal Howard
at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru June 29  |  tickets: $15   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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Noble attempt to save dated, awkward script

     

Anthony Whitaker, Jeff Kurysz, Amber Lee Olivier, Charlie Irving and Aaron Cammack in New American Folk Theatre's "Dark of the Moon" by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by Anthony Whitaker and Jamal Howard.

    
New American Folk Theatre presents
    
Dark of the Moon

Review by Lauren Whalen 

There’s a saying: “you can’t polish a turd.” It might be crude, but sometimes it’s spot-on, and the play Dark of the Moon is unfortunately one of those times. New American Folk Theatre tries its best to bring new life to a play based on a British folk ballad and originally produced in 1939. You can sense the company’s effort in everything from Anthony Whitaker’s boisterous musical direction to the actors’ dedication to the utterly ridiculous dialogue. Sadly, the script is so dated and terrible, I’d be very surprised if anyone, anywhere, could make it watchable.

Kirk Jackson and Jeff Kurysz in New American Folk Theatre's "Dark of the Moon" by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by Anthony Whitaker and Jamal Howard. Set sometime in the past (the women wear long skirts) in the Carolina mountains, Dark of the Moon is the doomed love story of “witch boy” John (Jeff Kurysz) and beautiful but promiscuous Barbara Allen (Sarah Gise). John has bargained with the Conjurman (Anthony Whitaker) and Conjurwoman (Amber Lee Olivier) to become human for a year, so he can be with Barbara. Meanwhile, Barbara’s in a sticky situation – thanks to a previous encounter with John, she’s now with child and her many marriage prospects have fast disappeared. Barbara and John are enamored of each other, but her God-fearing family and community are suspicious of his sudden appearance and odd strength, and his former contemporaries (Aaron Cammack and Charlie Irving) are trying to lure him back to the supernatural fold. Will love conquer all, or will the “blood of the Lamb” triumph?

I was already familiar with Dark of the Moon, having run crew for it in college, and therefore could pinpoint the changes directors Jamal Howard and Whitaker made even before I read the press release. In the interest of making the show more intimate and honest, several characters have been eliminated and scenes cut. That’s not a bad strategy, considering the play tends to run too long and many minor characters are superfluous to the story. However, it’s not enough to make the script palatable. The Southern dialect is ridiculous to the point of comedy (not the fault of the directors, it’s written that way), characters will spontaneously break into rhyming couplets, and even important scenes are heavy on exposition and throwaway dialogue. Virtually no character is sympathetic by the end – everyone’s sexist and overly involved, and even Barbara and John are downright idiotic at times. I understand that older plays can’t necessarily be held up to today’s politically correct standards, but some material just plain doesn’t age well and should no longer be produced. Dark of the Moon falls smack into that category.

Sarah Gise, Jeff Kurysz, Aaron Cammack and Charlie Irving in New American Folk Theatre's "Dark of the Moon" by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by Anthony Whitaker and Jamal Howard. Jeff Kurysz and Kirk Jackson in New American Folk Theatre's "Dark of the Moon" by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by Anthony Whitaker and Jamal Howard.  Kirk Jackson and Jeff Kurysz in New American Folk Theatre's "Dark of the Moon" by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by Anthony Whitaker and Jamal Howard.  Sarah Gise and Jeff Kurysz in New American Folk Theatre's "Dark of the Moon" by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by Anthony Whitaker and Jamal Howard.

The funny thing is, if it weren’t for the script, I would have thoroughly enjoyed the show. Dark of the Moon isn’t a musical per se, but a play with music, and the cast executes said music beautifully. Musical director Howard does an excellent job of establishing a personalized environment with a lovely, folksy soundtrack, and the live vocals and instruments (starting before the show begins and extending through curtain call) sound wonderful in the small studio space. As the pretty but tragic Barbara Allen, Gise (a dead ringer for Kirsten Dunst) sings like a dark angel and creates a sexy rapport with Kurysz’s John. (One note for Gise: please make sure there’s no hair elastic on your wrist during your final scene. That small detail took me right out of an otherwise devastating moment.) Kurysz has amazing physicality, creating distinct mannerisms for John the witch and John the human, and sustaining raw sexuality throughout. Olivier (who also designed the appealing, rustic set) is believable as both the Conjurwoman and sympathetic midwife Mrs. Bergen, and Colin Fewell’s preacher has the smarmy air of a televangelist. However, the cast’s true standout is Charlie Irving. Whether she’s slyly cozying up to the preacher as sanctimonious spinster Miss Metcalfe, or seducing John as the Dark Witch, Irving emanates a spooky, ethereal luminescence.

A lot can change in 15 years: I went into Dark of the Moon hopeful that I would get more out of the play than I did in college. I walked out liking it even less. Not everything improves with time, and this play shouldn’t be performed. Perhaps the play was extremely effective in 1939, but in 2014, Dark of the Moon is just ridiculous.

  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

Dark of the Moon continues through June 29th at The Den Theatre, address (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 6pm.  Tickets are $15, and are available online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at NewAmericanFolkTheatre.org(Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)

Grant Drager, Tobi Mattingly, Josh Mattingly, Anthony Whitaker, Kirk Jackson, Rich Wotkun, Caitlin Jackson, Sarah Gise and Colin Fewell in New American Folk Theatre's "Dark of the Moon" by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by Anthony Whitaker and Jamal Howard.


     

artists

cast

Suzanne Bracken (Mrs. Summey), Aaron Cammack (Fair Witch, Hank Gudger), Grant Drager (Floyd Allen), Colin Fewell (Preacher Haggler), Sarah Gise (Barbara Allen), Charlie Irving (Dark Witch, Miss Metcalf), Caitlin Jackson (Edna Summey), Kirk Jackson (Marvin Hudgens), Jeff Kurysz (John), Josh Mattingly (Mr. Allen), Tobi Mattingly (Mrs. Allen), Amber Lee Olivier (Conjurwoman, Mrs. Bergen), Anthony Whitaker (Conjurman, Smelicue), Rich Wotkun (Mr. Summey)

behind the scenes

Anthony Whitaker (director, musical director), Jamal Howard (director, production manager), Carrie Campana (costume design), Sara Carranza (stage manager), Oriana Dentici (lighting design), Amber Lee Olivier (set design)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Den Theatre, Lauren Whalen, New American Folk Theatre

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