Noble Horse Theater’s “The Legend of Sleep Hollow”

9 Nov

Of all the theaters with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” shows on Halloween weekend, Chicago’s Noble Horse Theatre seemed to have the most creative idea.  The classic Washington Irving tale was performed with live horses, which would have made the show more realistic and more entertaining.  But it was far from either of those things.   Instead of putting on an inventive play with horses, the Noble Horse Theatre gave a mediocre equestrian show with a slight “Sleepy Hollow” theme.

© Copyright Noble Horse Theatre

Built in 1871 after the Chicago Fire, the Noble Horse Theatre is housed in Riding Hall at 1410 North Orleans.  It is the only riding hall left in Chicago and the oldest riding hall in North America.  The theater, which opened in 1993, holds about 300 people in stadium seating while the show takes place in an enclosed, small riding arena.    Typically the Noble Horse Theatre stages dinner theater shows like Medieval Times but with a European 19th century theme.

The Noble Horse Theatre’s Halloween production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” attempted to combine the equestrian stunts of the dinner show with the Washington Irving story of the headless horseman and Ichabod Crane.  This performance, however, lacked one aspect key to any play: a story.  The entire story was narrated by a woman’s recorded voice over a loudspeaker while the actors did not speak.

In theory, this could have worked like a silent film with the narration acting as cue cards describing the action.  However, the speakers were not very loud and the narrator was so inarticulate that it was impossible to hear the narration. The audience would have been hopelessly lost if “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” had not been such a well-known story, and even then the scenes jumped around without following a distinct narrative structure.

© Copyright Noble Horse Theatre

Not only was there no plot due to horrible narration, there were also no acting abilities.  Although none of the actors had any lines, their gestures were expressionless and their faces were vacant.  It might have been possible to figure out what was going on in the story from the actors’ movements but the actors were so horrible that they made the situation even worse.

One of the actresses, who played a woman in a carriage being chased by the headless horseman and a villager at a festival, shrieked the entire time she was in the ring.   Her pathetic wails made it even more difficult to hear the narrator, so that whole scene seems utterly pointless.

It didn’t help, either, that the male actors dressed alike and switched horses in every scene.  The actor who played Ichabod Crane and the actor who played his rival had a similar height and build, so when the actors rode different horses in each scene it was hard to tell the characters apart.  Perhaps they needed nametags, or distinctive outfits, so the audience would be able to at least keep track of which character was doing what.

The Noble Horse Theatre lures in crowds with the promise of “classical riding with amazing trick riders,” but the tricks aren’t anything you wouldn’t see at an average rodeo.   In the random festival scene, Ichabod Crane rides around the ring performing various tricks.  While riding two horses at the same time (as if the horses were skis), he stumbled quite a bit, and almost fell off the horses.   It was probably a difficult trick to perform, but in a show as bad as this one, every mistake adds up.  In the end, it’s just the same old horse and pony show that is definitely not worth $30.

The only reason the Noble Horse Theatre’s production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” would be worth your time is if you have never seen horses outside of on television or the carriages on Michigan Avenue.  In that way, it is the perfect show for elementary school children who do not mind that they can’t follow the plot or distinguish between characters.  Children think it’s cool when a horse can only jump as high as an agility dog and easily forgive an “expert trick rider” who constantly stumbles.  As for adults, the only way to make this show enjoyable is to BYOB.  And lots of it.

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