“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has more of a natural resonance with Halloween — with the headless horseman, the ghosts, the spooky nighttime walks along country lanes. Walking Shadow Theatre Company, however, will open its new production on Saturday, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Imagine the challenge for marketing geniuses:
“He was the schoolteacher, a gangly and bookish outsider who just wanted to be loved; she was the loveliest lass in the valley; he was the town bully determined to thwart his rival. See what happens when this star-crossed love triangle plays out in the romantic woods of the Hudson Valley.”
Well, I tried.
John Heimbuch, Walking Shadow’s co-artistic director, wrote this adaptation of the Washington Irving story through a collaboration with the cast and director Jon Ferguson. The show had its first go at the Jon Hassler Theatre in Plainview, Minn., in 2010 and now Heimbuch and Ferguson are bringing it to the Red Eye, with the same three lead actors.
“We developed that entire script during the course of rehearsals,” Heimbuch said. “I didn’t do any pre-writing because I was working on ‘Drakul’ at the time [a February 2010 production] and because Jon likes to develop work in the rehearsal.”
Ferguson uses a distinctly physical style and he has worked fairly frequently with Heimbuch. “Or the White Whale,” for example, was a kinetically informed piece that adapted “Moby Dick” several years ago at the Southern Theater. Ferguson’s aesthetic uses movement to generate character, which generates language.
“What I learned through this was how viable it can be to write through rehearsal and not just at a writing desk,” Heimbuch said.
Early American literature
Washington Irving’s spooky classic created an identification for the Hudson Valley and its early Dutch denizens. The story drew from legends of a Hessian soldier who had lost his head and was buried near Sleepy Hollow. Disney made a cartoon in 1949 narrated by Bing Crosby, and Tim Burton twisted the tale in his 1999 film with Johnny Depp. Locally, “Sleepy Hollow” was regularly produced in an adaptation at Children’s Theatre many years ago with Bain Boehlke as Ichabod Crane.
Heimbuch’s version uses a presentational style, with the story both narrated and acted out. Ryan Lear, one of the principals in the Four Humors comedy troupe, plays Crane — a character who manages to be both irritating and sympathetic.
“He sees himself as more educated and therefore slightly better than the people around him,” Heimbuch said. “You get the sense of him bringing it on himself.”
Still, he’s an outsider who just wants to be loved. Is that so wrong?
Joanna Harmon plays Katrina Van Tassel, who is the romantic target for Ichabod and for Brom Bones, the conniving thug who scares the bejeezus out of poor Ichabod. Brant Miller plays that role.
“It’s a version that has no heroes,” Heimbuch said.