Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 15, No. 8. May 29, 1952
Drama Review . . . — "Dark of the Moon" Again
Drama Review . . .
"Dark of the Moon" Again
On the first night of "Dark of the Moon" I infiltrated myself cautiously between the fox furs and rabbit skins into an orchestral seat and delivered myself to the hazards of a Wellington Repertory production. As a play this is pure delight from beginning to end. The co-editors, Howard Richardson and William Berney, have taken the legend of Barbara Allen and written it in its American hillbilly setting with peculiar insight and understanding.
In the story Barbara Allen marries a "witch boy" called John who comes down from his mountain, known as "Old Baldy," wishing to become human because of his love for her. The words of the legend, however, stipulate that before John can become human Barbara Allen must remain faithful to him for a year.
The climax of the play comes In the local revivalist church on the eve before the year is up, when, after a torrid session in which several of the local sinners are "washed in the blood of the lamb," Barbara is saved from hellfire and damnation by being unfaithful on the floor with Marvin Hudgens, who had originally Intended to many Barbara and, "had been lusting after the flesh of a married woman." As a result of the breaking of the bond Barbara diets and John loses his chance to have a soul and becomes a witch again, who in three hundred years is "only mist and fog on the mountainside." The supernatural atmosphere, the beautiful poetic diction and the charming old-time expressions go to make this both an amusing and a moving play.
The best actor by fur in the Reper-tory production was Michael Cotterill who played John the Witch Boy. Perhaps he is fortunate that he has such finely marked features, an asset to any actor, but unfortunately he offset this advantage by maintaining a "dead pan" expression throughout the performance broken at times by rather an imbecllic leer. His voice was clear and his words were well-spoken although he rather lost the feeling of the play in one or two places, especially in a short speech at the end of scene one. What was moat remarkable in his performance was the perfect synchronisation between his voice and the movements of his body. A person who can act with his whole body together, who can express his meaning not just with his voice and his arms, but with every part of him, is a true actor. It was crystal-clear through Michael Cotterill's actions just what he meant.
In direct contrast was Oriole Whit-lock, who played Barbara Allen. Although she has played this part before she does not yet seem to have realised that pretty hair and a sweet voice are not all that is required. Her movements were peculiarly doll-like throughout the performance. Her singing of the Ballad of Barbara Alien was clear and competently done, but as the audience bad not previously heard the complete version of the song the full significance of why she stopped near the end was completely lost. The actual singing of the song made my spine tingle with horror, for as she sang she walked around the stage coquettishly addressing and caressing various members of the cast in turn in the best Hollywood tradition. Apart from this being quite out of character, it hardly seems likely that she would subsequently find the song so moving that she would Stop before finishing and thus cease to become the centre of attention—a position she so obviously enjoyed.
Her "bitch" fight with Edna Bergen in the some scene failed dismally merely because neither of them were bitches. They reminded me of two rather playful kittens.
Little else need be said of Oriole Whitlock's performance: at best she was but an ornament on the stage.
After a rather halting, mediocre performance in the first scene the Dark and Pair Witches improved considerably although I thought that they could well have been more ethereal. Like Hamlet I murmured longingly "O that this too too solid flesh would melt."
Preacher Haggler, with an uninspired and uncomprehending rendering of his port set the tone for the rest of the cost. However, they recited well. One exception was Marvin Hudgens who really gave the only authentic touch to the play.
I strongly suspect that Ralph Hogg, the producer, saw the Training College production of this play but year, listened to Frederick Farley's subsequent criticisms and then conducted his own production accordingly. Farley's paramount criticism of the T.C. production was that the crowd or, as I suppose it could be called at times, the chorus, was too individualistic. Consequently Hogg toned down all his minor characters and sublimated them Into a sort of insipid icing smeared on the stage. Surely the forces that move a crowd are the individuals within it.
In a ploy of this kind the group is very important. Much could have been expressed in the way it was placed on the stage. The conflict of the situation could have been made more obvious by strategic placing of the actors. For instance, in no place throughout the play was the group lined up against John, the alien to their society and their ideas.
There were many other faults in this play that went to make it mediocre—unconvincing sound effects, scenery too stylised for this type of play, jokes not well brought out, important incidents not highlighted, minor inconsistencies, lock of "esprit joyeuse" among the actors and the seemingly total lack of understanding of the whole picture of the play, as related to the individual parts, among the actors.
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