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Human after all

Witch boy meets girl in Players’ Theatre season opener Dark of the Moon

With the air outside now noticeably crisp, the moon glowing in the darkness of a strikingly younger evening, and Halloween quickly approaching, the scene is set for a date at Player’s Theatre, where the first show of their season, Dark of the Moon, is currently playing.

Dark of the Moon, written by Howard Richardson and William Berney, has not made the big theatre circuits in earnest since its run on Broadway in the 1940s. The play presents a simple story in a simple way: a young witch boy falls in love with the mortal Barbara Allen and must overcome many obstacles, including gaining mortal status, while following the course of true love. Yet for director Zak Rose, the play also holds universal messages about the relationship between authority and youth, and the dangers of dogma and prejudice. In his director’s note, Rose explains, “It has been my intention with this production to combine thought-provoking storytelling and entertaining spectacle, to bring all those topics to light.”

It is precisely the “storytelling” framework within which the play is set that gives it its charm. The set is remarkably bare; for example, only the outline of a tree suggests a forest, and written signs indicate locations. Nearly the only three-dimensional objects on-stage are simple, black blocks.

Costumes, along with props, play a much greater role in orienting us within the small town, early 20th-century world of the play. Props are also minimal, but they are well placed, allowing the audience to extrapolate and imagine the entire environment of a scene. The lighting does a good job of heightening elements of mysticism without overstating them, and also has the effect of fragmenting the play into perceptible scenes or portions – most often in conjunction with an obvious, yet efficient, set change. This incremental progression, once again, heightens the storytelling effect of the play, and the audience can almost imagine themselves sitting by a campfire as the story develops.

A good campfire story is never complete without unique voices or accents, and on this count Dark of the Moon also certainly does not fail. The entire cast speaks in a southern, midland dialect which they sustain well throughout the course of the play. Commendably, the language of the text remains discernible and understandable almost without fail. Colourful voice work also distinguishes the supernatural characters nicely from the mortal ones. To continue with another campfire necessity, Dark of the Moon is filled with song. Indeed, all of the music in the production is live, produced by the actors on stage. Although not always perfectly polished, the cast has a pleasant sound when singing as an ensemble, and there are also a few truly beautiful solo performances.

In comparison to many student productions, the cast is refreshingly large, with 13 actors in 19 roles. The carefully crafted characters establish themselves within the dynamics of their small town, and the sheer magnitude of the cast provides a powerful energy crucial for exploring the aforementioned themes of dogmatization and the influence of authority over the individual. Together, all of the colourful characters create a cohesive ensemble. Overall, the well-directed play features strong performances that carry us smoothly into the particularly powerful second act.

Dark of the Moon calls for a suspension of disbelief, and invites us to frolic within its supernatural world and observe the sometimes all-too-human behaviour of people guided by their forceful convictions.

Dark of the Moon is playing at the Players’ Theatre October 16-18, and 23-25 at 8 p.m. Saturday Matinees are October 18, 25 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $6 for students/seniors and $8 for adults.