Richardson and Berney's 1944 chestnut Dark of the Moon has survived through the attention of school and community groups, who've been drawn by its music, pageantry, sizable cast, and opportunity for affecting Dogpatch accents. This fable of witch John (Noah Dunham), who bargains for humanity to pursue a doomed love, conceals under its homespun characters and hill-country setting a nasty core: Its climactic scene unveils a vision of small-town life as bleakand ultimately contrived as Shirley Jackson's classroom staple "The Lottery."
Dark of the Moon
By Howard Richardson and William Berney
217 East 42nd Street
Thirsty Turtle's production, the company's debut, plays this material fatally straight. From their initial onstage warmup, the cast maintains a palpable enthusiasm that at times shades into scenery-chewing (a feat, given Emily French's tastefully restrained design). Dunham invests John with an intriguing fragility, while as John's beloved Barbara Allen, Sarah Hayes Donnell warms from an initial stiffness into real passion. But aside from the inexplicable decision to dress village coot Uncle Smelicue (Adam Fujita) like a refugee from a garage band, this remains a relatively generic version of a relatively generic play. For all the murder ballads and revival hymns ornamenting Dark of the Moon, we never really get a glimpse of the old, weird America that gave rise to that music.