Strange ways in the dark of the moon Smoky Mountain tale features witches, song CARROLL COUNTY DIVERSIONS


Imagine "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Romeo and Juliet" rolled into one story, and you've got "Dark of the Moon" as presented by the Western Maryland College's theater department.

The play, which starts tonight, is based on the old folk ballad, "Barbara Allen," and is set in the Great Smoky Mountains. "Dark of the Moon" tells the story of John, a young witch boy who falls in love with Barbara Allen.

"The poor guy falls in love for the first time, but he falls in love with a human, and he's a witch, so he has no chance of marrying her because they're different races," explained Eric Lyga, who plays John.

Desperate to win his love, John makes a pact with a conjure woman, a really powerful witch, to become human. But in order to stay human permanently, John has to marry Barbara Allen, and she has to stay faithful to him for one year.

The mountain folk, however, suspect something's not quite right with John, so when the couple's baby is born, the townspeople kill it.

"We never see the baby," Mr. Lyga said. "The town says the baby is a witch, and they kill it."

Then John makes the mistake of telling Barbara Allen the truth about himself and the pact he made with conjure woman.

"She tells the town, and I like to think they force her to be unfaithful to him," Mr. Lyga said. "So a conjure man kills her after losing a bet with the other witches, and John turns back into a witch."

Jennifer Brown plays Barbara Allen in the 25-member all-student cast. Ira Domser, associate professor of theater arts at Western Maryland, is producer. Several songs have been written for the play by Bo Eckard, a lecturer in music at the college.

"We're using some original songs from the play and other new songs by Bo Eckard," Mr. Domser said. " 'Dark of the Moon' isn't a traditional musical, but there's music in it."

The songs, some written by William Berney for the script by Howard Richardson in the mid-1940s, are "folksy and homey," lively songs that relate stories such as the mountain people tell.

The play is a favorite of Mr. Domser's.

"It makes for great theater, because it deals with the classic theme of good against evil, while also showing that nothing in life is truly black and white," he said. "Overall, it expresses the danger of relying too heavily on one philosophy."

"Dark of the Moon" isn't recommended for young children, partly because of a rape that occurs in one scene.

"Nobody sees anything, but it is discussed," Mr. Domser said.

"Dark of the Moon" performances begin at 8 p.m. today, tomorrow and Sunday and Nov. 18-20. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students. Information: 857-2599.

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