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Theater Review: “Tarrytown”

Backyard Renaissance Theatre’s “Tarrytown” runs through December 17, 2017, at Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights
Photo credit:
Studio B Photo Productions

Washington Irving’s well-known Halloween story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” gets a fetching musical update – and amusing twists – in Backyard Renaissance Theatre’s world premiere of Adam Wechter’s “Tarrytown,” playing through Dec. 17 in Diversionary’s Black Box Theatre.

You remember the Halloween story about the Revolutionary War soldier who loses his head (literally) and spends eternity as the Headless Horseman riding around in search of his (or someone else’s) head?

He’s still here, along with more contemporary psychological bugaboos like choices made and regretted and longing for that right human connection.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. “Tarrytown” opens with the arrival of new music teacher Ichabod Crane (Tom Zohar), ready to start over professionally upstate after an unexplained dust-up with the principal of his last school in Manhattan.

Ichabod, described as “awkward, gangly and nervous,” first meets Katrina (Kay Marian McNellen), the principal’s assistant, who shows him to “your very own prison. It’s shabby, I know. There were some cuts in the budget for the arts.” (Sound familiar?) 

Katrina invites Ichabod over for dinner, which surprises and delights him. He’d thought making friends here would be as difficult as he found it in Manhattan.

Katrina is even more excited. After he leaves her office, she sighs and sings (in one of the show’s best songs) about “My New Gay Best Friend.” 

But when Ichabod arrives for dinner, he meets Katrina’s hitherto unmentioned husband Brom (Bryan Banville), a history teacher at the local community college.

Brom asks Ichabod to join him in watching a football game, leading to a funny if stereotypical scene as Ichabod – bewildered about what’s happening on the field, but feeling embarrassing stirrings in his own, er, psyche – tries to convincingly feign interest in the game.

The rest of the play is a delicate and often delightful psychological 90-minute pas de trois, as these three characters try to work out their attraction (or is it just friendship?), longing, dreams, and disappointments.

Wachter’s lyrics have a definite Sondheim feel – lots of words, sung quickly in stream-of-consciousness style, but fortunately with better melodies than Sondheim typically produces.

Directors Francis Gercke and Anthony Methvin couldn’t have found a better trio of singing actors for this piece. Zohar is adorable to watch and fun to listen to as Ichabod’s initial excitement at finding a friend gradually moves to something quite other.

McNellen is absolutely convincing – and lovely to listen to – as the wife who longs for escape from the confines of her small-town life. 

And Banville is amusing to watch (and his lovely voice is always a plus) as beer-swilling guy’s guy Brom is forced to reconsider his life as well.

Bravo to Backyard Renaissance Theatre’s executive director Jessica John, who went to a showcase of “Tarrytown” while Wachter was in town working at the Old Globe, and immediately decided to present a full production. Good move.

The details

Backyard Renaissance Theatre’s “Tarrytown” runs through December 17, 2017, at Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm plus 7 pm Dec. 11.

Tickets: (619) 977-0999 or backyardrenaissance.com