One hates to begin a rave notice with a negative, but it has to be said and I may as well say it now: if you’re looking for a straight forward, coherent and accessible reading of Washington Irving‘s enduring Halloween masterwork The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow (Walking Shadow Theatre Company performing at Red Eye, through Mar 2), look elsewhere. This production is unlikely to ring your bell.
But if creepy theatricality and outsized passion are what you crave, well, Walking Shadow has the show for you. Director Jon Ferguson (with, no doubt, plenty of help from imaginative adapter John Heimbuch) employs an inspired approach to the hoary material. It doesn’t always work (I more than once scribbled the words “repetitive,” and “confusing” in my hot little notebook), but much more often than we have any right to expect, it does.
Ferguson’s premise (warning: reviewer’s no doubt mistaken interpretation follows) is that Sleepy Hollow is a power spot for ghosts, haints and headless Hessian horsemen. The townspeople may not fully understand his but they are affected by it. Ferguson dresses his energetic company of performers in wild wigs and tattered clothing. They perform in stark but rich lighting on a stage strewn with aromatic but dead leaves (kudos to designers Erica Zaffarano, Lori Opsal and Logan Jambik). They wear thick haunted make-up with plenty of white powder (indeed, they often resemble freshly exhumed corpses). They tell scary stories, pray in Parson Von Houten’s weird church, sing, dash about, operate sinister puppets and generally behave in entertaining if not always comprehensible fashion.
You know the story: schoolteacher Ichabod Crane arrives in Sleepy Hollow (from far off Connecticut), determined to make his name – and wed the eerie but sexy Katrina. He encounters, one fateful night, the above-referenced headless horseman, after which he ceases to be. Crane is played by an appropriately thin and goateed Ryan Lear with jumpy comic befuddlement. Something is going on in Sleepy Hollow; Crane doesn’t understand what it is but he’s quite certain he can contain it. We know better and as a result Lear is endlessly funny.
Joanna Harmon as Katrina gives one of the most compulsively watchable performances I’ve seen in many a moon. Slight, spooky, wide-eyed, wildly coiffed, I couldn’t peel my eyes off her. It’s one of the mysteries of theater: the rest of the young company is attractive and highly talented, but always I found myself watching Harmon. (She has also, btw, designed an outstanding puppet, the details of which I am not going to share, except to say that it features the plastic-faced Hans Hauge).
Nifty performances are also given by Brant Miller as Brom Bones and by Casey Hoekstra as the young but fiery Parson.
And by Suzy Kohane. I kept waiting for this performer to amaze me (she excelled in Latté Da’s recent Company). Finally, in an original song by Heimbuch and composer Tim Cameron, called “If The Devil Rides Up,” she did: sung in a Shoenbergian singsong, with another actor holding her hand, Kohane projects pain, terror – and genuine musical prowess. It’s a short moment, but it will stick with me.
Speaking of music, Cameron has composed (or found) some effective string quartet music. It weaves in and out of, and supports, the action nicely. My one criticism is that it is sometimes too loud, making the performers hard to hear. But that could just be my aging ears. Readers should ignore this. I may delete the whole paragraph.
The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow is highly recommended.
For more info about John Olive, visit his website.