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South Valley Journal

Providence High School performs unconventional enactment of ‘Sleepy Hollow’

Dec 10, 2019 03:45PM ● By Kaleigh Stock

Ichabod revels in the attention of the ladies. (Kaleigh Stock/City Journals)

By Kaleigh Stock | [email protected]

From Oct. 29 through Nov. 1, Providence Hall High School lauded the chilly fall season with a raucous re-enactment of the spooky classic “Sleepy Hollow.” Four nights of the play translated to a small but full house each night, making for an intimate setting. The play itself, written by John Heimbuchh and Jon Ferguson, was much like the Washington Irving short story but with an unconventional twist.

The play generally followed the same storyline as the book: Ichabod Crane, the school teacher and choirmaster of the little town of Sleepy Hollow, tries to woo Katrina Van Tassel, the exceptionally beautiful daughter of the richest man in town. There is one problem though: The town “tough-guy,” Brom Van Brunt, was already courting Katrina. 

When the superstitious townsfolk of Sleepy Hollow frighten Ichabod with tales of the Woman in White and Headless Horseman, Brom is all too keen on reinforcing these ghost stories to push Ichabod to the brink. When the Headless Horseman rears his missing head at the end of the story and Ichabod disappears, some mysteries are never explained. Was the horseman truly a dead Hessian soldier haunting Sleepy Hollow? Or was Mr. Brunt the cause of Ichabod’s disappearance? Where did Mr. Ichabod disappear to anyway?

What made this dramatic version of “Sleepy Hollow” so refreshing and fun was its playful and creative use of props, along with its tongue-in-cheek humor. Early in the play, students of Ichabod’s decide to play a prank on the fearful Ichabod. Each held up a book partially blackened out. When held together their pages created a single image of a demon that entertainingly sent Ichabod reeling.

In another instance, when Ichabod’s clothes blew in the wind, it was the hands of several students that moved his clothes. The combination of Ichabod’s motion in place and the flapping of his coat by the other actors created a whimsically amusing effect that perhaps would have not been present in a big-budget production. 

There were plenty of laughs when soundboard effects were used with comedic timing. Just as the tale of a stormy night the Headless Horseman is being told, thunder and lightning appear just as these weather phenomena’s names are invoked, and only at that time. When Ichabod joyfully points out a bird flying overhead, the bird is immediately shot and falls dead into the audience. These moments are a hallmark of this rendition of “Sleepy Hollow” and invoke simultaneous humor and horror and make the theme of superstition all the more apparent. 

Gabe Valez, as Ichabod Crane, was as flamboyant and theatrical as he ought to be in that role. Other young actors and actresses in “Sleepy Hollow” included Aubree Homes, as Katrina Van Tassel; Daniel Taylor, as Brom; and Taylor Meredith, as Baltus Van Tassel. They each played well off of one another and inserted some of their own personalities into the characters to make the more humorous moments successful. 

Supporting each scene was a backdrop that served as both a fence for the outdoor scenes and Ichabod’s schoolhouse. A long wooden fence with large gaps between boards stretched across the backside of the stage. These gaps allowed strange figures such as the Lady in White and the Headless Horseman to pass behind the fence without being completely seen. As good horror should, this tactic allowed audience members to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps. It also implicitly pressed the concept that these ethereal beings may just be a figment of the play’s characters’ imaginations.

When the fence swung open and the all-black Headless Horseman backed by creepy red lighting finally appeared in all of his blazing glory, it was all the more rousing. As the director Jon Liddiard noted, the Headless Horseman, and more generally “Sleepy Hollow,” seem to center around a theme of “the fear of fear.”

Evoking the relationship between Ichabod and Katrina, Liddiard asks us, “How many times in our lives do we stop ourselves from growing or making connections with others because we allow fear to get in the way?” This theme he believes is relatable to all people and perhaps what makes “Sleepy Hollow” such a timeless classic.

Providence Hall High School’s “Sleepy Hollow”  is proof that with a collection of creative minds and some ingenuity, a large budget is not needed to make for a great production. Whether it be a big production at Hale Theater or a small production at a local high school, it is great fun to get out of the house and support local theater.