DCT’s Ghosts of Sleepy Hollow Stumbles through Scary Early American Tale

The Teen Scene Players at Dallas Children’s Theater are winding up a short run of The Ghosts of Sleepy Hollow, a new one-hour adaptation by Philip Schaeffer of 19th century stories by Washington Irving. It’s a beautiful looking production, directed by Artie Olaisen, but the skills of the storytellers are weak.

We’ve been spoiled by some wonderful young local stage actors of late. Kennedy Waterman, 14, in Uptown Players’ Harbor, and Taylor Donnelson, 17, in L.I.P. Service’s The Whale, gave natural, unselfconscious turns that combined polished, confident technique with the actors’ work of bringing inner life to characters. (Both of these young women are students of director and acting teacher Jeff Swearingen at Plano’s Fun House Theatre and Film.)

Seeing young actors do well in large professional productions alongside adults makes it harder to excuse mediocre teen acting, especially at Dallas Children’s Theater, with its healthy budget for shows and large staff of educators and directors.

All around the 16 attractive performers in Sleepy Hollow are design elements and technical whizbangery that outshine nearly everything the cast is capable of. Gorgeous digital projections by H. Bart McGeehon create 3-D covered bridges and the slender limbs of a New England forest where young teacher Ichabod Crane rides. (There’s no headless horseman in this play, but plenty of other specters.) Sound design by Marco Salinas and lighting by Linda Blase, two of the best at these areas in all of Dallas theater, bathe the small Studio Theatre in lush music and stunning visual effects.

Then in come the teens. They talk too fast, mush their diction, step on cues, fall into sing-songy rhythms and make little effort to listen to each other. Their postures grow slouchy and they stand stiffly in straight lines, like nervous birds on a wire.

One ensemble member stands out (in a good way) for her ability to speak clearly and put a little oomph into her part: Manon McCollum, playing the maid in Sleepy Hollow who’s more than she seems. Manon’s the daughter of Dallas actors Kristin and Rob McCollum. She has better shows ahead.

The Ghosts of Sleepy Hollow continues through October 30 in the Studio Theatre, Dallas Children’s Theater, 5938 Skillman St. (just north of Northwest Highway). Tickets $14 at 214-740-0051. (Recommended for age 11-up.)

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