It's kind of ironic that one of the most terrifying and iconic characters in American literature — a character people can't seem to get out of their heads — is one that doesn't possess a head himself.
But the Headless Horseman is just one element that makes Washington Irving's short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, such a memorable tale.
Just in time for the Halloween season, Lexington Children's Theatre is revitalizing this story for the stage in a production that opens Sunday and continues through next weekend.
While a specter on horseback might be the character many people remember, the meat of story revolves around schoolmaster Ichabod Crane (Christopher Freeman), his head-over-heels love for Katrina Van Tassel (Marcy Thornsberry) and Crane's ensuing battle with brutish townsman Brom Bones (Adam Luckey) to win Katrina's affection.
These actors have their work cut out for them in this production of Katherine Schultz-Miller's adaptation of Irving's story. They are tasked not only with portraying the three main characters, but various townspeople in a late 18th-century settlement that is rife with superstition and a ghostly aura.
"It's driven by the ensemble," Thornsberry said. "It's three actors onstage and it's our job to create this whole legend that exists. While we're creating the atmosphere, we're telling the story as well."
Freeman adds, "I really love the way that this story is simply told. It's cool to see how three actors can bring such a large story to life."
Through frequent costume changes, and shifts in voices and body language, the actors are able to fill the stage with a town full of personalities.
Vivian Snipes, artistic director for Lexington Children's Theatre and the play's director, said one of the tasks the show had to tackle was how to make this supernatural legend of the Headless Horseman materialize onstage. Seeing how they pull it off is a good reason to see the show, Snipes said.
But, she added, there is just something about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that audiences never lose interest in.
The story is back on the pop culture radar this fall with the Fox TV series Sleepy Hollow, which has Crane, the Headless Horseman and others waking up from a centuries-long slumber in the 21st century.
"That's just a really frightening image," Snipes said of the Headless Horseman. "There's this edge (that makes people ask), 'Can I possibly believe this? Can this happen in my world?'"
Because this is a Lexington Children's Theatre production, that 'edge' can't be too sharp. But here, the cast thinks it strikes just the right tone for children and adults.
"That's one of the things Vivian and Justin Antonio Doro, the assistant director, was trying to push, ... finding the balance between the humor and the scary," Freeman said. "I think we did a pretty good job."
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
When: 2 p.m. Oct. 20 and 27; 2 and 7 p.m. Oct. 26
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.