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THEATER REVIEW : Dark of the Moon' Goes a Little Heavy on the Hokum : The drama is a mixture of myth and folklore peppered with the erotic and supernatural.


An elaborately staged rustic fantasy with music, "Dark of the Moon," set in the Smoky Mountains, is an amalgam of Greek mythology and Southeastern American folklore with a touch of "Rosemary's Baby." Despite the story's fairy-tale aspects, its sensuality and violence make it unsuitable for youngsters--if only for its climactic rape, set in a revival meeting full of approving parishioners.

The play, concluding its run this weekend at Moorpark College, is based loosely on the traditional folk song "Barbara Allen." Howard Richardson and William Berney's story tells of John, a witch who falls in love with the mortal Barbara Allen. The mystical Conjur Woman grants his request for mortality, under the condition that John and Barbara marry and she remain faithful to him for a year. John realistically presumes that it's a bad idea to let the townspeople know that he's a former witch, but they suspect something's up. First, John refuses to set foot on consecrated ground. And then, Barbara gives birth . . .

There's plenty of room for hokum here, and very little of that opportunity goes unexplored by the playwrights and director Les Wieder--from the mock-countrified dialogue to dressing up John as a piece of '50s urban beefcake plopped into the "Hee-Haw" cornfield. There's enough chemical smoke in a couple of scenes for a 1975 Deep Purple concert. And to call some of the performances "overacting" would be an understatement comparable to calling Roseanne Arnold "feisty."

But "Dark of the Moon" is fantasy, and you buy into it or you don't. If you do--as last week's opening night audience did--there's a lot of merit to the production, starting with Mickey Howell's atmospheric set and Christopher Hoag's brilliant music and sound effects, and continuing with Joshua Morrow and Tricia Hughes, a handsome couple portraying John and Barbara Allen. Steve Connell is effective as the thwarted Marvin Hudgens, bullying until defeated in a fight by John Boy's witchery--and then still bullying but stepping gingerly every time he passes the witch.

Stella Matsuda has arranged some nice choreography, the most effective being a show-opening ballet between John and Barbara Allen. Members of the cast sing several songs, some traditional, some written for the show. The aforementioned rape scene is the most violent in the show, by far, and there are some very sensuous moments: When witches played by Mandy Moncibais and Arabee Koch climb all over John, it's something to behold.

Among the large supporting cast, notable comic performances are turned in by Colleen Ogilvie as a contentious girl and Greg Crooks as an enthusiastic resident of the towns.


* WHAT: "Dark of the Moon."

* WHEN: 8 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday.

* WHERE: Forum Theater, Moorpark College, 7075 Campus Road, Moorpark.

* COST: $8 general admission; $6 students and seniors.

* FYI: For reservations or information, call 378-1468.

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