Originally published on Onstage NTX
It’s an impressive feat to put together a show that makes the audience simultaneously want to lock their doors and windows, but also curl up next to a roaring fire with a collection of Washington Irving short stories and a mug of cider. Has anyone coined a word for spooky-cozy yet? Maybe the Danish?
In any case, actor/playwright John Rapson, a lifelong Irving devotee, has conjured up a scary-good witch’s brew of the horrible and the homespun with his one-man show The Hollow, melding horror movie tropes and jump scares with consummate storytelling and stagecraft, all of it to create a decidedly modern twist on Irving’s classic tales of early America. Amphibian Stage’s scream-worthy world premiere production will (cliché though it may sound) keep you on the edge of your seat until its last moments, as the show’s narrator finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into a supernatural trap of his own making.
I have to admit: there might have been a mild eye roll when I heard Amphibian was producing yet another adaptation of Irving’s most famous short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—the Disney-fication of which has almost entirely overshadowed Irving’s other works. Why revisit this overdone chestnut? But Rapson’s piece, initially presented as part of Amphibian’s 2021 Spark Fest, is a wonder. Comfortably straddling two worlds, the play digs deep into Irving’s personal history and evocative prose while simultaneously riffing off the relatively recent “found footage” and techno-horror strains of the horror movie oeuvre to create a surprisingly unnerving night at the theater.
It’s an impressive feat to put together a show that makes the audience simultaneously want to lock their doors and windows, but also curl up next to a roaring fire with a collection of Washington Irving short stories and a mug of cider.
The conceit seems simple enough: we’re the audience at a late night one-man show at an empty theater. Rapson’s narrator presents several of Irving’s tales and some biography while livestreaming the event to a sparse digital audience. Cue the spooky happenings.
Rapson is endlessly engaging as our evening’s benighted narrator, transitioning seamlessly between “himself” in the modern day and a more omniscient narrator for some of Irving’s most beloved characters—the effete Ichabod Crane, his coquettish love interest Katrina Van Tassel, and his bluff rival Brom Bones. His love for Irving’s stories shines through, and the piece is masterful in setting and then undercutting our expectations at every turn. Rapson and director Jeremy Landon Hays are in absolute lockstep with the stellar production design, which combines tight, eerie sound and lighting design (credit to David Lanza and Amanda West) with the one-two punch of a well-crafted multimedia design (Caite Hevner and Benji Arrigo) and dazzling onstage effects. The result? Scares: real ones, provoking genuine gasps and jumps in the audience.
There’s more I could say about this excellent production but to avoid spoilers, I’ll simply say this: The Hollow is an impeccably crafted, brilliantly executed thrill ride from start to finish, paying homage to America’s “first man of letters” in the best way possible—by scaring the bejesus out of its audience. Get your tickets ASAP, since this critic, at least, may well go back for a second viewing.
WHEN: Through November 6th
WHERE: 120 S Main St, Fort Worth TX 76104