THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
Washington Irving's venerable ghost story, first published in 1820, contains virtually no dialog, but abundant pondered ambiguities -- so it is up to the writer and director who is adapting the story in a performance medium to "dramatize" it. Many a writer has tried, in film, animation, stage, and musical versions. Playwright James Rana has taken up the challenge and provided the freshest of takes on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in a delightful production mounted by East Lynne Theater Company in picturesque Cape May, New Jersey. Deftly directed by Gayle Stahlhuth, the company's artistic director, and with a talented cast of seasoned professionals, the hour and twenty minute presentation breezes by on the wings of disarming charm and dramatic authenticity.
The story (for those pupils who avoided "required reading") is simple. In 1792, Ichabod Crane, a Connecticut native, arrives in Tarry Town, New York, to serve as the new local school master. Initially, the Dutch town folk aren't too keen on this English outsider, but he begins to get along with the locals -- or so it seems. Crane is highly interested in what we would now call "the occult," and is excited to hear a local legend about a headless horseman who roams a nearby hamlet called Sleepy Hollow, searching for his misplaced head. Crane is also infatuated with the notion of wooing Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of a rich farmer (with hopes of ultimately becoming the next master of the manor). Crane is thwarted by Brom Bones, who considers Katrina as promised to him since childhood, and who concocts a number of pranks, with ghostly overtones, to scare away the superstitious Crane. While traveling to his lodging after a harvest festival at Katrina's family home, in a state of dejection over Katrina, Crane has a terrifying encounter with what appears to be the headless horseman, and then Crane simply disappears. Did Crane really disappear? Was the headless horseman a ghost or an elaborate prank perpetrated by Brom? Later on a passerby tells of Crane being alive and quite a hit as a lecturer in Manhattan. Was that tale a hoax as well?
Irving's story is so well known that it becomes the obligation of any new production to infuse the legend with something new. What this particular production brings is a refreshingly straightforward telling, with fine authentic characterizations, spirited ensemble playing, and a new slant here and there. For example: the character of Ichabod Crane, as sympathetically played by Matt Baxter Luceno, is an essentially well-meaning outsider who is subjected to xenophobic prejudice. The other characters, although they are "types," are never allowed to descend to total caricature. What could have easily slipped into cliché is checked by the skill of this able ensemble.
Each of the play's six actors contributes something special to it. Matt Baxter Luceno, appealingly elegant and courtly as Ichabod Crane (on his good behavior), arouses our sympathy as the harassed and terrified outsider. In addition, Mr. Luceno possesses a wonderful singing voice. This is well displayed in scenes in which -- as a pretext for wooing her -- he teaches Katrina to sing. Elisa Pupko as Katrina is superlative as the sweet Dutch farmer's daughter, as well as other characters; Ms. Pupko gets to show that she too is an accomplished singer. Suzanne Dawson shows her mettle as a character actor, and as such is up there with the best of them as the village gossip, housewife, etc. She plays her comic rolls to the hilt, especially when Ichabod Crane gives her a singing lesson. As Brom Bones, Justin Bennett is certainly up to the task of portraying that ultimately disagreeable character. I know actors are good when I am induced to dislike the characters they portray, and I certainly loathed Mr. Bennett's! Thomas Raniszewski plays all his multiple roles wonderfully, with a decidedly sharp contrast from when he is the proper Pastor, to later as the outlandishly awkward farmer who lends Crane a horse for his ride with the headless one. John Cameron Weber shows he is a solid and convincing actor as Katrina's father, as well as in his other roles.
Marion T. Brady's period costuming beautifully established the Dutch era backdrop of the play, and all the players appeared comfortably at ease in the attire she designed for them.
Gayle Stahlhuth's direction is so natural that it creates the illusion of looking like it just "happened." However, I suspect that a great deal of work was required to have the seamless action of the play move with such fluidity and ease.
This fine production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is child-friendly (and certainly adult-friendly as well). It reminds me of the teleplays of early television (which can be viewed on YouTube and at the Museum of Broadcasting): A time when, with good scripts, fine actors and direction, and with only basic scenery and props, delightful and enduring works were created. - Jay Reisberg, for Culture Catch, NYC-based review site:
East Lynne Theater Company helps decorate the Governor’s Residence
When The Drumthwacket Foundation thought it a good idea to have theater companies help decorate Drumthwacket for the holidays, John McEwen, Executive Director of The New Jersey Theatre Alliance, contacted its members. The Alliance fosters collaboration, cooperation and audience development. Currently, there are thirty-two Equity professional, not-for-profit theaters who are members of the Alliance, and East Lynne Theater Company is one of them.
Drumthwacket, built in 1835, is the name of the Governor’s residence near Princeton, and usually the Garden Clubs of New Jersey provide the only holiday decorations. During December, this elegant home may be seen by 5,000 plus people, through Open Houses and Special Events.
At the first meeting at the residence last spring, artistic directors and designers from various theaters attended, along with those representing the Alliance, Drumthwacket, and the Garden Clubs. ELTC’s artistic director, Gayle Stahlhuth, and costume designer, Marion T. Brady from Little Falls, NJ, were there. Before the meeting, pictures of the five rooms to be decorated had been e-mailed to everyone. Stahlhuth and Brady brought pictures of costumes from ELTC’s 2012 production of “It Pays to Advertise,” and a few other shows.
In June, while presenting “Lost on the Natchez Trace” on the mainstage, ELTC received word that it had been selected to decorate the Governor’s Study. Phone calls between Stahlhuth and those at the residence and the Garden Clubs, as well as conference calls between Alliance members and fellow theaters, followed.
The hunt began for mannequins. Susan and Barry Tischler, owners of Kaleidoscope, a women’s clothing store on Cape May’s Washington Street Mall, lent ELTC their full-size mannequin, which includes a head and feet. Though taller than the actor Maria Silverman who wore the purple suit in “It Pays to Advertise,” the suit fit the mannequin, and a hat, shoes, gloves, and a muff were found to complete the Edwardian look. Eric Hafen, artistic director of The Bickford Theatre located next to The Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ, brought two “torso” mannequins to the residence for ELTC’s use. The museum is lending them to ELTC.
On November 20, Stahlhuth and ELTC’s technical director, Lee O’Connor, traveled to Princeton to set up the display. Christmas themes were encouraged, and what is Christmas without shopping? Opening on Broadway in 1914, “It Pays to Advertise” is a comedy about the power of advertising, with actual facts and figures from what the likes of Kodak and Kelloggs spent in 1914 - almost 100 years ago - at the time World War I began in Europe.
The next day, the Garden Clubs finished off the festive atmosphere with floral arrangements.
ELTC’s display is created to make one think of a shop window. The mannequin in the purple suit is looking at two dresses and a framed sign in the middle that advertises “Thirteen Soap: Unlucky for Dirt," designed by Mark E. Lang for ELTC’s production. There are smaller frames on either side of the dresses, sitting on small tables. One has pictures and credits from the show. The other is a page of dialogue from “It Pays to Advertise,” where real statistics are revealed, ending with:
“Six hundred and sixteen million dollars were spent last year in magazines and newspapers, billboards and electric signs, bringing education and comfort and fun and luxury to the people of the United States. It’s romance - the romance of the printing presses, of steel rails, of the wireless, of trains and competition, the romance of modern business, and it’s all built on advterising. Advertising is the biggest thing in this country, and it’s only just the beginning.”
Four other theaters decorated other rooms. Centenary Stage Company, at Centenary College in Hacketstown, provided costumes and props from their “Christmas Carol” for the library; The Growing Stage, in Netcong, decorated the parlor with elaborate set designs from “Rudolph;” and in the parlor, are costumes from Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s “The Misanthrope,” and Premiere Stages’ “Madison.” Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is located in Madison, and Premiere Stages is at Kean University in Union.
Not to be left out, the remaining twenty-seven theaters throughout the state are represented in the dining room with set designs and props from various productions.
On Tuesday, December 3, O’Connor and Stahlhuth will travel once more to Princeton. This time for a holiday tea with Mrs. Christie and other selected members of New Jersey’s vast and varied theater community.
For those who would like to visit the Governor’s Residence, open houses are on the following days, all between 11:00am-1:30pm: Wednesday, December 4; Sunday, December 8; and Wednesday, December 11. Reservations are required and may be made through the website www.Drumthwacket.org. A $5.00 donation to the Drumthwacket Foundation is suggested.
ELTC helps students perform in Wildwood
The Princesses can't stop dancing and the Fisherman keeps asking favors from a Magic Fish. It's all part of the fun in two one-acts based on The Grimm Brothers' Collection: "The Dancing Princesses" and "“The Fisherman and
The performance is on Thursday, December 5 at 6:00p.m. at The Wildwood High School, 4300 Pacific Avenue, in Wildwood, and admission is free and all are invited. The sixth and seventh grade performers are part of the after-school program funded through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant. This is the second year of this exciting program, and the second year that the not-for-profit Equity professional East Lynne Theater Company has been involved. For two afternoons a week, almost weekly, throughout the whole school year, ELTC’s artists-in-residence meet with two after-school workshops. Group sizes vary between ten to twenty students, and topics cover improvisation, movement, and working with scripts.
Like last year's March performance, students are under the guidance of Sally Bingham, Rudy Caporaso, and Grace Wright, with last minute assistance by ELTC's artistic director, Gayle Stahlhuth. Sally, who has been an actor, director, and playwright for twenty-five years, directed "1,001 Arabian Nights" last summer for ELTC's Student Workshop, and started the after-school theater project at West Cape May Elementary School, focusing on Shakespeare. Rudy, co-founder/co-artistic director of Rev Theater Company, has appeared in numerous Off-Broadway, regional, and London productions. He's worked extensively in outreach theater programs for Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and charter and public schools in New York City, Philadelphia, upstate New York and in Connecticut. This is Grace's third year working as an artist-in-residence with ELTC, where she also performed in "He and She" and "The Poe Mysteries." She's worked with numerous theaters in South Jersey, including Sojourn Productions, where she has performed, stage managed, and was musical director.
Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1869) Grimm started out to research and collect folk stories for a scholarly treatise. What they did was forever popularize "Cinderella," "Hansel and Gretel," "Snow White," and numerous other stories that are universally well-known.
For fourteen years, East Lynne Theater Company has been involved with educational outreach in schools in Cape May County, usually having to find the funding through organizations like Target and The New Jersey Theatre Alliance.