In its nearly three-decade-long history, Actors' Theatre of Columbus has often explored theatrical territory beyond that of its touchstone, William Shakespeare. But with "Dark of the Moon," an Appalachian variation on the 17th century "Ballad of Barbara Allen," director Frank Barnhart and troupe may have wandered too far afield.

In its nearly three-decade-long history, Actors' Theatre of Columbus has often explored theatrical territory beyond that of its touchstone, William Shakespeare. But with "Dark of the Moon," an Appalachian variation on the 17th century "Ballad of Barbara Allen," director Frank Barnhart and troupe may have wandered too far afield.

Written in 1939 by Howard Richardson and extensively revised a few years later by his cousin William Berney, "Dark of the Moon" tells the story of a witch boy who, having fallen in love with copper-haired Barbara Allen, becomes human to marry her. With a setup like that, you just know it's probably not going to turn out well.

This supernatural melodrama has long generated controversy for its sexual themes, its sometimes clumsy re-creation of Appalachian dialect, and the ethics and methods of its clergyman, Preacher Haggler.

But the Actors' production doesn't help the cause, with a tone that occasionally borders on unintentional parody, especially among some of the peripheral characters. Comic relief is one thing, but not taking the characters and their situation seriously is something else all together.

As the witch boy who adopts the name "John Human" after this transformation, Joe Bishara is an appropriately love-struck and awkward man.

The playwrights ask Barbara Allen to remain oblivious to her husband's true nature longer than is credible, particularly for someone who had previously been so defiantly independent, but Liz Wheeler makes her sympathetic.

Nick Baldasare gives a slick and convincing charisma to Preacher Haggler. Dee Shepherd lends sincerity and her beautiful voice to Mrs. Allen.

Actors' Theatre usually waxes poetic with the Bard, but this "Moon" wanes in comparison.