Prime Stage Theatre puts twist on classic tale

By Larissa Gula

Director Mark Calla wasn’t a fan of Washington Irving’s novel “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but after some urging, he took on the job of directing an adaptation. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

Oct. 30 through Nov. 7

Directed by Mark A. Calla

New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Square E.

$20; $10 for college students with ID

Purchase at or call 412-394-3353

Director Mark Calla wasn’t a fan of Washington Irving’s novel “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but after some urging, he took on the job of directing an adaptation.

Under Calla’s direction, Prime Stage Theatre will put on its own version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

In its show, the story starts out in the present with children telling ghost stories, using flashbacks to tell Ichabod Crane’s story. After overlooking the material for the play, Calla was pleasantly surprised.

“The script is fairly true to the original,” he said. “The way we made [the play] is expanding on it. To make it playable on the stage as a play, not a retelling, was to try to create some greater depth to the main character.”

Calla and the playwright, F.J. Hartland, worked together to make Crane a history not found in the original material, explaining why the “goofy, oddball and quirky teacher” is the way he is, giving him reasons for his behavior.

Brian Czarniecki, who plays Crane, joined the talks to learn more about the expanded character.

“There are scenes with his parents and flashbacks to his childhood,” Czarniecki said. “It’s interesting to see the flashbacks … There’s his childhood and his adult life in Sleepy Hollow. It’s a coddling mother and dominating father and how they formed who he is. When he’s the schoolmaster, he’s confident and educated. In real life, he might not have common sense and can be bullied still, especially when vying for the attention of Katrina.”

Of course, the Headless Horseman plays a key role, as well.

“Even in the story, he might exist or might not, yet he is a legendary figure, even to the people of the time,” Calla said. “He is the archetype of boogeyman stories. He is the thing in the dark that will grab you if you’re not careful. More than Crane, the Horseman made this story last.”

Calla made some adjustments for this adaptation of the show but wouldn’t reveal his tricks for bringing the Headless Horseman to life on stage.

“There is no way to describe what we do without giving something away,” Calla said. “I think what the script did is unique. I want people to experience it by seeing it and hearing it.”

Calla also put effort into giving the play an atmosphere rather than just a script. This is the only thing he would reveal about his method of dealing with the spooky character.

“One of the things that has always bothered me about stage versions is they become very talky,” Calla said. “There is almost no story to use to drive it in the original story. The original is about atmosphere. Putting a literal actor on stage has always fallen short. So I think something that we did was to create a Horseman in people’s minds instead of seeing a literal figure who we know is a costume.”

Not all the challenges in the play are character-related — some are purely physical.

“I think the biggest challenge for all of us is performing on a multi-level set,” Czarniecki said. “The set has platforms, and the set is going to be a cemetery, in different levels. We rehearse on a flat space, though, trying to imagine the different levels. We try to keep this in mind. There will be different obstacles on the real set.”

The people involved are excited to bring what they consider a seasonal folktale to the stage with the twist of their own additions.

“It’s a classic,” Czarniecki said. “It’s an American classic folktale. So many people know a version of this story. My mother reminded me that I saw an animated Disney film based on this years ago. A lot of kids have heard this story, just like the kids in the play. Going back to these folktales is always fun.”