Dallas — Hard to believe Halloween is so close, given the unseasonably warm temperatures Dallas has been dealing with lately. But the witching hours is, indeed, almost upon us and Dallas Children’s Theater celebrates the scariest holiday (well, unless one is seriously spooked by the idea of Christmas shopping) with a sometimes goofy, sometimes truly frightening world premiere, The Ghosts of Sleepy Hollow.
Director Artie Olaisen had the idea to turn Washington Irving’s stories into a stage play for the DCT’s Teen Scene Players, and DCT kid-grown-up and Boston College graduate Philip Schaeffer wrote the adaptation. (Schaeffer literally matured on DCT’s stages; his parents are longtime DCT stalwarts Nancy and Karl Schaeffer.)
At just a tad more than an hour long, the play breezes by with the air of a fleeting phantom. Your kids won’t have time to squirm, just to be enchanted by the energetic cast and the professional-level production values. The scenery and video by H. Bart McGeehon, lighting by Linda Blaise, sound by Marco Salinas, costumes by Raul Luna, props by Ryan McBride and make-up by Caitlyn Carlile account for much of the show’s success.
What with the creepily billowing curtain, giant shadows and ominous organ music before the show, my hair was ready to stand on end before the play even started, with an unseen speaker intoning, “If you lose your head over this production … “
The cast obviously varies widely in terms of experience, but their triumphs outweigh the bumps along the way.
The setting is a party in an obviously haunted mansion—really, was there ever a more perfect spot for ghosts and ghouls to frolic?—in Sleepy Hollow in upstate New York. The lanky schoolteacher Ichabod Crane (the pleasantly loose-limbed Lincoln Anthony) has gathered among friends for a party, but when the talk turns to Sleepy Hollow’s legendary ghosts, Ichabod takes the skeptic’s viewpoint. He tells his cohorts that he’s an expert on the area’s “rustic culture and folklore,” but heartily pooh-poohs any talk of wandering haints.
The gathered then take it upon themselves to convince Ichabod. Several stories of fiends most foul ensue, with sprinkles of humor to lighten the atmosphere. Young Anika (Grace Woodmansee) shrieks appropriately at the sight of a sumptuous dinner of the period: “That’s a pig. A whole pig! He’s looking right at me!”
Anika’s visitor, the woman in white, played by Georgia Rose, is the most effective of the specters, hovering and undulating amid special effects that make her otherworldy indeed. Rose emerges with one of the strongest characters in the play, even though the role is wordless. Her hollow-eyed expressions and languid, hypnotic movements tell us all we need to know about her ghost’s torment.
Also excellent are Trinity Hawkins as Elsa Landshort, Elizabeth Stratton as the maid and Manon McCollum as the cook. The two servants always seem to be lurking about, no matter the time setting or ghost story that’s being told. Of course, the Headless Horseman also makes an appearance, and it’s a doozy (one of the most frightening moments in the show).
Olaisen somtimes eschewed traditional casting for a show that's entirely colorblind, not particularly in keeping with the historical eras displayed, but most certainly in the admirable—erm, spirit—of encouraging these teens to jump into theater with their entire hearts, minds and bodies, no matter the seeming obstacles.
Kudos to DCT for this fun show that’s just right for the cool dark nights ahead. Be sure and look behind you.
» DCT recommends The Ghosts of Sleepy Hollow ifor ages 11 and older.