It is officially Fall and nothing says Halloween season like Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Synetic Theater has taken this American horror classic and adapted the story into their own extraordinary brand of physical performance. This production of Sleepy Hollow has no dialogue but, through the use of music and body language, brings the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman to life in a breathtaking display of raw emotion and tremendous physicality.
Irving’s story of a Headless Horseman on a murderous rampage in search of his head has been revised numerous times since its original publication in 1820. Synetic’s adaptation, by Nathan Weinberger, takes the main premise of the frightful apparition but then shapes the key characters to match the theater’s style and vision.
Vato Tsikurishvili plays Ichabod Crane, who in this version is not the superstitious, lanky schoolmaster but instead an intimidating war hero who vies for the hand of the desirable Katrina Van Tassel (McLean Jesse) over his comrade, Brom (Justin J. Bell).
At a celebration, the two men compete in a raucous dance, interchangeably snatching Katrina from each other’s grasp. Choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili is a blend of acrobatic and classic feats, accentuated by intense and ethereal music by Synetic’s Resident Composer and Sound Designer Konstantine Lortkipanidze.
By the end of the dance, Katrina chooses Ichabod and the two consummate their match with a passionate and sensual pas de deux.
The joy is short-lived, though, as the Headless Horseman (Scott S. Turner) takes his first victim, Van Ripper (Jordan Clark Halsey), prompting Ichabod, with his friends Brom and Van Tassel (Thomas Beheler) on a search through the forest for the perpetrator.
The Horseman’s head is wrapped in a black cloth to simulate its absence, and with a show completely devoid of words one might consider the actor’s inability to use facial expression a hindrance, but Turner manipulates his every move with precision and intention, which beautifully conveys the Horseman’s fury and torment. Whether this is more to the credit of Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s genius or Turner’s strength and skill is unclear, but the result is mesmerizing.
Adding another layer to the Horseman’s anguish is the soul of his horse, portrayed by Maryam Najafzada. With the use of fog, a large metal frame of a horse’s head, and two powerful front legs, the illusion of the Horseman riding through the forest on his steed is used multiple times at various angles to great effect. Puppeteers Anne Flowers, Megan Khaziran, and Matt R. Stove move as the body of the horse, while Najafzada is its Spirit.
The horse and its rider have an incredible bond, even in death, and this connection adds a humanity to the Horseman that is not usually seen in varied adaptations of the Tale.
Synetic’s production of Sleepy Hollow is uniquely constructed and takes Irving’s frightening story to a whole new level of enchantment, mystery, and betrayal. The entire cast’s meticulous execution of the choreography and movement is a powerful thing to behold. And their ability to tell such a full and multi-layered story without words is beyond impressive.
That being said, there is a synopsis in the program, which is a helpful guide to what is going on in the scenes, especially due to how much the story deviates from the original.
The theater suggests the production is for ages thirteen and up and I would recommend that a child’s ability to appreciate the show will vary. There is nothing overtly gory or sexual, but the fighting is very real and is not for the faint of heart.
My twelve-year-old came with me and was entranced the whole time, and I intend on seeing the show again with my older and younger sons because, frankly, Synetic’s Sleepy Hollow was far too inspiring and magnificent for them to miss.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Assistant Director Tori Bertocci, Scenic Designer Phil Charlwood, Costume Designer Erik Teague, Lighting Designer Brian S. Allard, Resident Stage Manager Marley Giggey, Ensemble Katherine Cardenas-Cruz, Ensemble Scean Aaron