There is an eerie chill gripping the old Dutch village of Sleepy Hollow, which has nothing to do with the drop in mercury that accompanies the prosperous farming community’s October harvest festival. For one thing, there are the murmurings of approaching pox and plague. And wolves have been seen hunting unnaturally close to the town.
And what’s up with those reports of the weird greenish lights in the sky just over the mountain ridge? And finally, what really happened to the former schoolmaster Ichabod Crane (Michael Bates), who so mysteriously vanished in the night five years before?
That is the teasing setup for The Hollow, the Speakeasy Society’s delightfully fright-amped, four-performance-only immersive-theater adaptation of Washington Irving in Atwater Village.
The company, which patented its signature brand of audience-interactive, holiday-themed dinner theater with 2013’s acclaimed Ebenezer, its immersive version of A Christmas Carol, here loosely weaves stories and characters from Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. into a modernized folklore-flavored cross between Peyton Place and The Wicker Man.
Chloe’s, the warren of back rooms that comprises the private pub at Atwater’s Golden Road Brewing, is transformed into the Wild Goose, the Sleepy Hollow tavern that hosts the autumnal gathering in thanks of a bountiful crop. Exposition occurs over the three-course, prix fixe dinner as company members table-hop and introduce themselves.
There is Baltus Van Tassel (John McCormick), Sleepy Hollow’s congenial mayor and host; his daughter Katrina (Paula Rebelo), who married the loutish Bram Bones Van Brunt (Michael Pignatelli) following Crane's disappearance, and who now seems to regret the match; and the tippling tavern owner Thomas Walker (Matthew Bamberg-Johnson), who married the Van Winkle widow Elena (Elena Sanz) after her own husband vanished years ago during a hunting trip; his surly and resentful slacker of a son Rip Jr. (Zan Headley) now busses the tables.
Directors Julianne Just and Genevieve Gearhart once again make inspired use of Chloe’s readymade atmospherics to craft a Gothic-themed, site-specific suspense experience refreshingly unlike the run-of-the mill shock-horror haunts flooding Los Angeles right now.
In addition to a fully dramatized narrative that drafts spectators into the story as mostly passive participants, The Hollow features original songs and Gearhart’s witty, thematically integrated dances that are all set to the accomplished traditional folk music accompaniment of Ben Fordham, composer Chris Porter and Brendan White.
The arc of the evening proceeds from vaguely familiar, Irving-esque outlines to the increasingly strange and strained as smoldering tensions among the hovering celebrants suddenly flare into arguments that are just as quickly hushed.
What dark secret the hollow is hiding eventually will be revealed between the main course and dessert, as the audience is broken into discrete groups in the far reaches of Chloe’s to witness different story strands resolve themselves in bloody denouements.
The full story, however, can only be gleaned after the show as audience members linger over craft beer or wine to compare notes.
GO! The Speakeasy Society at Golden Road Brewing, 5410 W San Fernando Road, Atwater; through Oct. 29. Speakeasysociety.com.
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