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Sincerity Helps 'Moon' Shine

Theater review: Retelling of the Barbara Allen legend at Santa Ana College is directed and played straightforwardly, making the legend believable.

October 17, 1998|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The tale is told in an old folk legend. The beautiful and fickle Barbara Allen has her way with the young men in a little town high in the Ozarks. That is, until a Witch Boy from Bald Mountain sees her and has his own way.

The boy, John, falls so much in love with Barbara he begs a Conjur Man to turn him into a human so he can marry Barbara.

That's how the legend goes, but Howard Richardson and William Berney take it a step further in their rarely staged drama, "Dark of the Moon," now playing at Phillips Hall on the campus of Santa Ana College.

It's a haunting, poetic play, which along the way teaches some lessons about the fears that make humankind distrust and hate those who are different.

In this case, it's the town's insular and bigoted church folk who perceive, after the couple is married, that John is a warlock whose love will doom poor Barbara to Hades for eternity. Their violent efforts to destroy John are echoed in today's headlines.

In hill country plays like this one, there's always a temptation for directors and actors to play the comedy of the country characters when their reality is more effective. In his staging of "Moon," director Jeff Paul, for the most part, plays on the reality. He finds much of the poetry and magic and only rarely allows some of his cast to slip into burlesque.

*

The most obvious example is Karen Rymar's Grandma Smelicue, out of "Li'l Abner" by way of "Hee Haw." With her wide-brimmed slouch hat, pipe dangling from her mouth, Rymar plays the old lady like a clown at a barn dance.

It's all in strong contrast to the restraint of most of the ensemble: Vanessa Ramich's pretentious Edna Summey; Shauna Reynolds' bitter, strait-laced midwife Mrs. Summey; Gena Acosta's slightly vicious Mrs. Bergen; and Wayne P. Easter Jr.'s fun-loving lunk of a Hank Gudger. All are as real and honest as the full moon hanging over the village.

*

But the core of the play is, of course, the relationship between John and Barbara Allen. Mathew Anderson's Witch Boy John hits all the right notes as a young man--at least in witch years--who finds himself out of his element as a human. Anderson's lightness--and, when needed, his sense of humor--creates strong empathy when he begins to fail in his dream.

As the alluring love of his heart, Ruth Ricks' Barbara is gentle, charming, and she makes believable both Barbara's early reputation and her eventual adoration of the Witch Boy.

*

Dana Cook and Eric Hamme are strong as Barbara's confused parents, and Jason Rogel has some funny moments as her dumbbell of a kid brother. Mark Wickham's Preacher Haggler toes the line to good effect, and Adrian G.D. Lopez's angry boyfriend is touching when the Witch Boy steals his Barbara from him.

The Conjur Man, played by Joshua Jones, has the authority of a biblical prophet. Eryca Leevan's Conjur Woman, however, seems more like someone you might meet in the corner deli.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* "Dark of the Moon," Phillips Hall, Santa Ana College, 1530 W. 17th St., Santa Ana. 8 tonight, 2:30 p.m. $6-$8. Ends Sunday. (714) 564-5661. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Mathew Anderson: John

Ruth Ricks: Barbara Allen

Dana Cook: Mrs. Allen

Eric Hamme: Mr. Allen

Mark Wickham: Preacher Haggler

Jason Rogel: Floyd Allen

Gena Acosta: Mrs. Bergen

Shauna Reynolds: Mrs. Summey

Vanessa Ramich: Edna Summey

Karen Rymar: Grandma Smelicue

Adrian G.D. Lopez: Marvin Hudgens

Joshua Jones: Conjur Man

Eryca Leevan: Conjur Woman

A Santa Ana College production of the drama by Howard Richardson and William Berney. Directed by Jeff Paul. Scenic design: Sean Small. Lighting design: Bill Georges. Costume design: Amanda Lewis. Sound design: Justus Matthews. Makeup/wig design: Gary Christensen. Stage manager: Teresa White.

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