Lexington Children's Theatre's atmospheric The Legend of Sleepy Hollow brings Washington Irving's short story to life in an equally haunting and humorous portrayal of early American life.
Director Vivian Snipes revives much of what made 2008's production of Kathryn Schultz Miller's stage adaptation a solid production. The play is just creepy enough to feel like a celebration of Halloween, without tipping over into the horror genre. What's more, it weaves plenty of humor and history into the mix.
Having reviewed the show at LCT in 2008, I recognized many elements from the past production coming back to haunt the stage.
For instance, Kiersten E. Moore's scenic design has returned with its script-laden forest landscape and the three two-dimensional wood townsfolk who alternate between representing actual townsfolk, or, when flipped around, become props that seep into the set and into Moore's Tarrytown forest.
Alexandria Vasquez's costume design also pays homage to the marriage of words and woods. Each of the three actors' costumes feature rows of handwritten cursive, making their clothes appear almost as if they are made of parchment, which harkens to Irving's writing. Because the words are also woven throughout the set, the story, the characters and the forest itself are different moving parts of the same cohesive tale.
This directorial approach worked in the previous production and it works again. Why meddle with success?
There are some new elements as well, namely actors Adam Luckey, Christopher Freeman and Marcy Thornsberry, who among them play a dozen or so characters, crisply shifting accent and demeanor for each one.
At first I was confused by the multitude of accents, but then I remembered, the play is set in a Dutch settlement in 1790s New York. America was only barely a country and its non-native residents were largely immigrants from around the world. Of course, they would all sound differently.
Luckey, Freeman and Thornsberry deserve praise for cultivating multiple sharply drawn characters and maintaining their distinctions consistently while entertainingly drawing the audience deeper into the suspenseful tale.
At its heart, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow's appeal is the escalating suspense that reaches a crescendo during an encounter with the headless horseman, the scariest moment of the play, but there is more to its success than the obvious. It is a uniquely American tale in the way that A Christmas Carol is a uniquely British story belonging to a specific time. The early American social context — the costumes, the customs — make Irving's tale a foundation of the American identity and Snipes' direction is a faithful portrayal of that, which might be appealing to parents who want their children to get a little more than a good-natured fright.
If you go
'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Oct. 26; 2 p.m. Oct. 27
Where: Lexington Children's Theatre, 416 W. Short St.
Tickets: $18 adults, $15 children. Available at theater box office, by calling (859) 254-4546, Ext. 247, or 1-800-928-4545 or at Lctonstage.org. Call Ext. 245 for information about school day performances.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.