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WINTER Wear: An avocet wades in the Bear River to look for a tasty snack. The bird's black-and-white winter plumage heralds the onset of cold weather. / Photo by Mike Sweeney

Today's word on journalism

Friday, November 11, 2005

On journalists during wartime (for Veterans Day):

"[I]n the news media that covered the war both overseas and domestically, journalists also were willing to cooperate and do their
part. The public did not see journalists (and journalists did not see themselves) as being against the team. Journalists were part of the team. Some, such as roving correspondent Ernie Pyle, repeatedly visited combat zones even though they did not have to do so, and they paid with their lives."

--Michael S. Sweeney, press historian, 2001 (from "Secrets of Victory," about censorship during WWII)

 

Vosco Call revives his 'Headless Horseman' at USU's Morgan Theatre

By Brad Plothow

October 12, 2005 | The mind plays its most terrifying tricks in the placid moments. Whether walking alone in a dark grove or lying awake in your bed at night, there's something about serenity and isolation that causes the brain to contemplate ghosts, goblins and the supernatural unknown.

WHAT'S OUT THERE?: Nick Hutchinson (Ichabod Crane)
and Lacey Jackson (Dame Van Ripper) look to the things that go bump.

Perhaps that explains the "wild imaginations of Sleepy Hollow." Cut off from New York's bustling Hudson River valley, the humdrum village of Sleepy Hollow provides a fitting backdrop for the favored pastime of the hayseed locals.

"They love their ghost stories," said C. Vosco Call. "They sit around at their gatherings and parties and tell them. It's what they love to do."

The haunts of Sleepy Hollow were first chronicled in Washington Irving's 19th century classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But the spirit of the decapitated Hessian horseman has returned, this time to Utah State University's Morgan Theatre.

It has been more than 30 years since Call wrote a screenplay of Irving's legend for the stage. But when The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow premiers Saturday and Monday, even those who saw Call's 1968 rendition will be surprised by how he framed the 185-year-old fable for the stage.

In essence, Call's new adaptation is a stage-friendly version of Irving's story, just in time for Halloween. But in writing his new dramatization, Call wanted to do more than just tell a thrilling ghost story. He wanted to write the tale for children, and tell the story through them. He also yearned to acquaint show-goers with a character he considers one of the greats in American literature: Ichabod Crane.

"That Ichabod Crane character is as important a character in American literature as Don Quixote is to the Spanish," Call said. "I discovered that Irving actually wrote this story from Ichabod Crane's vernacular. Once I discovered that, writing the dialogue just flowed much easier."

Charming, chic and occasionally obnoxious, Ichabod invades Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster. A wiry, long-nosed fellow, Ichabod's idiosyncrasies are on display from the moment he enters the town. However, he also goes about searching for opportunity, and he immediately sets his heart on urbanizing the valley and winning the heart of Katrina Von Tassle, the beautiful young daughter of the town's richest farmer.

His ambition and unabashed personality warrant the adoration of some of the villagers, while eliciting the disdain of others. From witchcraft to music to poetry, Ichabod is a self-proclaimed master of just about everything. He woos the women of Sleepy Hollow with his off-the-cuff poetry and fawning flatteries. His antics divert the attention of Kartina from other suitors, most notably Brom Bonesthe village roughneck.

Bones resents Ichabod's interest in Katrina, and he's not the only one ruffled by the lanky teacher's presence. Ichabod's prospect of modernizing the little New York valley into a commercial hub irks the townsfolk steeped in routine.

"Ichabod symbolizes that feeling of progress that's wont to happen," said Nick Hutchinson, who plays Ichabod. "It's foreboding, but (the villagers are) perfectly happy in their little, humble ways. "Ichabod understands that this is a place that's not traveled to very often. Sleepy Hollow is kind of behind the times."

And the town will stay that way, if a young pupil of Ichabod's get his way. Yost Van Ripper resents the discipline and rigidity the schoolmaster exhibits in the classroom. He is also mortified at the thought of his fishing holes being replaced with factories. In his begrudged state, Yost enlists the help of another youth, Maggie Houten, to pull off a plan to reveal Ichabod's one great weakness his "yellow streak."

Yost's ensuing plot to spook Ichabod as he travels home through the woods sets the table for the appearance of the Headless Horseman, who uncovers Ichabod's cowardice and drives him from the town.

"The children are definitely the link between the audience and the story," said Emily Heap, who plays Katrina. "They help the audience into the story as they experience the story through the children."

The children's role in portraying the story is especially pertinent to Call's composition, which was written with a young audience in mind. The production contains no foul or inappropriate language or other content, and but for a spooky scene or two, the play is kid-safe. Drawing children to the play is paramount for Call, because he wants Irving's work, which is so inspirational to him, to enthuse burgeoning generations to pick up early American literature.

Call said he's receiving no compensation for his work, and all proceeds from the play will be donated to a scholarship fund in honor of his late wife, Ruth, who was fond of the stage and youngsters.

"If (Ruth) did this play, all of the characters would have been children," Call said. "That was her bag. Her genius was in the development of children."

For cast and crew, an audience of attentive youths provides a forum of candid critics, minus the cynicism that comes with age.

"Children are a unique audience because they'll let you know how they like the play," said Heap, who added that she respects the brassy truth to which kids are prone. "I am very excited to perform this for the children because I can't wait to see how they react."

But put all the subplots and caveats aside, and what do you have? One of the most heralded American ghost stories, a tale that plays off the fear of what might be creeping up on you when you're alone.

"This is a story about what's lurking out in the trees," Call said.

Performances at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, and 7:30 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $12 for a family of four. Prices for individual tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children (12 and under). Utah State University student tickets are free with a valid ID. Ticket information is available by calling (435) 797–0305. Call (435) 797–1500 for general inquiries. Children under the age of 5 are not admitted into the theatre.

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