Student actresses performed Howard Richardson and William Berney’s 1945 play “Dark of the Moon,” a theatrical interpretation of a folk ballad that takes place in rural Appalachia, on Mar. 8-9 and Mar. 15-17 on an outdoor set constructed by cast and crew next to Caldwell Pool. “Dark of the Moon” features Appalachian folk songs and tells the story of a witch boy named John, played by Sarah ’12, who longs to become human after falling in love with a girl named Barbara Allen, played by Allie ’12. The cast included members of Drama Ensemble as well as sophomores and juniors who auditioned to take part.
Performing Arts Department Head Anne Scarbrough, director and producer of the play, said she selected “Dark of the Moon” to allow the large cast of 24 actresses to delve into challenging character work and explore complex questions about the nature of love, injustice and community.
“I love stories that present humanity in all its complications, and I think this play really does that,” she said. “The way the audience gets to participate is by walking away happily arguing about what they think.”
During the rehearsals that began after winter break, the cast prepared to capture the essence of Appalachian culture and music. With the help of guest dialect coach Adam Rose, guest movement coach Joseph Baker, and performing arts instructor Ernie Scarbrough, the girls mastered the songs, speech, attitudes and mannerisms of their characters.
Phoebe ’12 played Marvin Hudgens, a burly man who competes with John the witch boy for the affection of Barbara Allen. Benya said that working to adopt her character’s persona presented some unique challenges, especially because in one scene, her character chops firewood to impress Barbara.
“I chopped wood for three months in preparation for the role,” Phoebe said.
The play included over a dozen songs of traditional folk music from the Appalachians. Schuyler ’12, along with several other cast members, spent hours rehearsing with Ernie Scarbrough to learn the instruments that would provide musical accompaniment for the play’s songs. Despite having no prior experience, Schuyler said she enjoyed learning the banjo. Other cast members were trained to play the fiddle, the washtub bass and the guitar.
“We called ourselves the Smoky Mountain Band because the first song we learned how to play was called ‘Smoky Mountain Gal,’” Schuyler said.
According to Anne Scarbrough, music ties into the characters’ everyday lives and adds a sense of reality to the play’s depiction of Appalachian culture.
“The [characters] are not performing the music; they’re playing it for their own enjoyment and to play together,” she said. “They may not all be able to read and write, but music is something they can all converse in.”
Another way the cast and crew recreated the characters’ everyday world was through the play’s elaborate outdoor set. Last month, the show’s technical director and scenic master, performing arts instructor Doug Lowry, led the cast, crew and parent volunteers in constructing sets and props including a wooden barrel, benches and a storefront. When rainy weather hit the Mar. 18 performance, actresses were prepared to let the show continue smoothly despite their wet costumes.
Niki ’13 attended the Mar. 15 show and said she thoroughly enjoyed seeing her peers perform.
“I’ve never seen a play that resonated in my mind as much as that one,” she said in an e-mail. “The set was brilliant, and I cannot believe how committed to their characters every actress was.”
“Dark of the Moon” was the last Marlborough production for the Drama Ensemble seniors, many of whom began their performing arts careers in the 7th Grade Play, “Pres de Lune,” over five years ago. For these actresses, the location of the set had special significance.
“For those of us that are seniors, our very first play at Marlborough was outside. So that was pretty exciting,” Schuyler said.
Anne Scarbrough said that she has enjoyed working with such a talented group.
“I felt like placing them on the site of their first [Marlborough] production really highlighted their journey and their growth here,” she said. “Every day we were out there, it was so present to me how I’ve watched those girls grow up.”