As the weather becomes colder, our attentions turn to seasonal treats like mulled cider, fall foliage, and spooky Halloween tales. A classic American ghost story is Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and the Academy of Performing Arts’ adaptation, by Vera Morris, is more fun than scary, making it ideal for the whole family.
The Dutch-settled village of Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., is in need of a new schoolmaster, after the last one was scared off by some pranksters, namely Abraham “Brom” Bones (Andrew Grignon) and Yost Van Ripper (Dan Costa). The lanky Ichabod Crane (Mark Roderick) is the new teacher, and is drawn to the beautiful and wealthy Katrina (Maya Smith). Unluckily for Crane, the arrogant Brom has been courting Katrina, albeit unsuccessfully, and Brom is not about to let the bookish schoolmaster have her without a fight.
In this adaptation of the Gothic tale, the “girls in white” (Maya Anastasio, Kelly Clifford, and Laura Kaser) are “restless spirits” from the graveyard that roam the town, helping to spur on the superstitious beliefs of the farmers. One of the well-known tales is that of the “headless horseman,” a Hessian soldier who is supposed to roam the countryside on horseback, looking for his head, which was shot off by a cannonball. Brom decides the best way to get rid of the vain Ichabod Crane is to scare him, using the headless horseman as a disguise.
Director Sam Govoni Roderick, with help from assistant director Judy Hamer, brings out the best in all the actors, but Mark Roderick and Andrew Grignon take turns stealing the show, whenever possible. As Ichabod Crane, Roderick is delightfully engaging with his physical comedy, readily bringing a wobbly scarecrow to mind, whose appetite for home cooking is never satisfied. His affected speech and haughty ways bring many laughs from the audience, especially when reprimanding the schoolchildren, making sure not to “spare the rod.”
Grignon is a natural on stage and also receives peals of laughter playing the intimidating yet self-absorbed Brom Bones. As the ambitious Katrina, Smith is a grounded and determined force, clearly seeing the true nature of her suitors; she stands up to their attempts to claim her, making it clear she is not a piece of property.
The cast of 26, a mix of adults and schoolchildren, are all dressed in colorful, old-fashioned costumes.
Adam Roderick’s set design is charming and impressive; it adds to the idyllic, village-like atmosphere, with a farm, chapel and eerie graveyard, which even includes a splendidly large three-dimensional tree. The colorful leaves scattered on the floor add a finishing touch to the autumnal ambience.
This time of year, a little fright is to be expected, and the APA’s special effects work their magic, but more than anything, this version of “Sleepy Hollow” is about exaggerating the comical foibles of the characters, and of small town America, under the ghostly light of the October moon.
The APA’s “Sleepy Hollow” runs for 75 minutes without intermission.
What: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Where: The Academy of Performing Arts, 120 Main St., Orleans
When: Through Oct. 20
Tickets: Call 508-255-1963