Faulkner & Irving Conjure a Haunted House and Scary Woods
by Lynne Stevens
Don’t go into those woods! Don’t open that door! These are the classic warnings of many terror tales. And do we listen to the warnings? Of course not, or there would be no story.
Theatre Lunatico has brought together two classic American short stories: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving and “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner. In both stories, the characters’ comic antics keep us giggling until the breaking point.
When we consider that the actors are working in the Subterranean Theatre’s tiny space with few props, it’s even more amazing. The drama depends entirely on their voices and physicality—and they make it work brilliantly.
As the old Fire Watchman, Keith Jefferds narrates “Sleepy Hollow” to nameless hikers, who soon take on the roles of the stories’ characters. Jefferds tells the story as written, while the hikers wonder how long he can go on in that old fashioned style.
The four friends are exhausted after hiking in the woods, when the Watchman walks into their camp. He startles them by mentioning previous hikers who went missing. He reminds me of the classic opening: “It was a dark and stormy night, three robbers sat in a cave,” as he loops around and around, never ending.
Jefferds’s maniacal “been alone in the woods too long” laughter and his leer creep us out and bring us back to earth. We’re delightfully trapped in the mysteries behind these wonderful stories.
Each of the actors in these two dramas demonstrates a great talent for physical comedy. In “Sleepy Hollow,” Rachel Brown’s uses her face like putty, screwing it into an imitation of Ichabod Crane’s horse, Gunpowder.
Brown lopes along in a swayback manner with dependable Lauri Smith’s Ichabod Crane urging her on in fear. Smith embodies upright Ichabod Crane by smacking his ruler on her hand.
Meanwhile, Thomas Peterson shape shifts from bespectacled hiker to the sinister Brom Bones, Ichabod’s adversary. Peterson transforms himself from earnest suitor to cruel, disinterested cad with the mere change of a hat.
Smith also beautifully embodies ethereal Emily in “A Rose for Emily,” Faulkner’s story of a jilted Southern woman. When Emily has her beau’s attention, she is all girlish blushes; but Emily is not to be crossed. When his attention wanes, we watch Smith’s face cloud over.
In “Emily,” we flash back and forth in time, slowly uncovering her heartbreaking story of romance, seduction, and abandonment. In her small southern town, there is plenty of gossip and everybody knows your business.
Umut Yalcinkaya plays innocent country girl Katrina in “Sleepy Hollow” with her hair fluttering in the breeze as she flirts demurely with Brom. In the Faulkner story, Yalcinkaya plays Emily’s naïve niece, who comes to inventory the house after her aunt’s death. She is perfect as Katrina, but the niece’s role seems gratuitous until the climactic ending of “Emily.”
Is it scary? You can find out what’s behind La Val’s basement door by going down those stairs. Lunatico kept me rapt with attention right up to the final revelation.
“Tales from Behind the Basement Door”: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, adapted & directed by Gendell-Hing-Hernandez –and–
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, adapted by Joseph Robinette, directed by Tara Blau Smollen – at Theatre Lunatico, Berkeley, California. Info: theatrelunatico.com – to November 11, 2023.
Cast: Rachel Brown, Keith Jefferds, Thomas Peterson, Lauri Smith, and Umut Yalcinkaya.
Banner photo: Umut Yalcinkaya, Lauri Smith, and Keith Jefferds. Photos by Robin Jackson