“A witch boy from the mountain came, A-pinin’ to be human,
Fer he had seen the fairest gal…A gal named Barbara Allen.”
—Traditional English Folk Ballad
The Ballad of Barbara Allen has been described as one of the most widely collected songs in the English language, with hundreds of versions collected over the years in North America. It has also been used as a dramatic device in films and plays. One such play is currently on stage at Playcrafters of Skippack: DARK OF THE MOON. Written in 1942 and running for ten months on Broadway in 1945, and based in the area known as Appalachia, this is the story of John the Witch Boy, who convinces the Conjur Woman to change him into a human so he can marry the beautiful Barbara Allen, with whom he spent a night of passion. The Conjur Woman changes him on the condition that she remain true to him for one year.
The large cast of this production handled the material well…accents were consistent and did not detract from the story. The pace of the production was brisk (perhaps a bit too brisk) and kept the actors and audience both on their toes. The set pieces were minimal, scene changes quick and effective. The lighting assisted the audience in following the changes from the real world to the ethereal.
There were a number of fine individual performances in this production. Scott McMaster (John) gave a passionate performance, and his scenes with Kendal Conrad (Barbara Allen) were very good. He does need to slow down a bit, however…when he gets excited, he speaks a bit too quickly for the audience to follow. Conrad does a good job showing the initial distaste for marriage in general until she meets John as a human, and then she is completely devoted. Michelle Quigley shines in the role of Mrs. Allen, Barbara’s mother…accent, attitude and actions all were wonderful to watch. Michele Loor Nicolay (Dark Witch) and Florence Wydra-Gat (Fair Witch) were the counterpoint to the “real” action, and a welcome subplot. Pat McGurk (Uncle Smelicue) had a firm handle on his character but needs to tone it down a bit…his actions and ad-libs upstaged the action. And Eric Rupp (Rev. Haggler) brings a needed devious side to his character.
There have been productions of this show that I have seen that dragged on…this is certainly not the case with Playcrafters’ production. I would, however, like to see the cast slow down just a bit. There were scenes where the desire to rush the lines out came at the expense of the emotional direction of the show. Lines were thrown out without seeing the motivation. This is a fine production and a good cast. If they take the time to think about what they are saying, it will be even better.
DARK OF THE MOON
by Howard Richardson & Willion Berney
Directed by Lori Maxwell
October 31 – November 15, 2014
Playcrafters of Skippack
2011 Store Road
Skippack PA 19474