Maybe some of you have been fortunate enough to see the theatrical production of War Horse, (which is on in New York at Lincoln Center until January 6.) Based on a 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo, and made into a film last year, this play won five Tonys, including Best Play for 2011. It’s also playing in Melbourne and Toronto and a German-language version opens in Berlin in 2013.
I finally saw it this week, grateful that we have online access to discount tickets — my front-row balcony seat cost me $43 instead of the usual $125.
It’s hard to know where to start to praise this intense and astonishing piece of work. It’s definitely not for young children; I saw a young girl, maybe seven or eight, clinging to her father’s coat in the lobby afterward and knew exactly how she felt.
It is a play about war, and there’s much violence, and gunfire and exploding bombs and crows feasting on corpses, all staples of conflict but hardly what a young child is eager to see or able to handle.
For those who don’t know the work, it’s the story of Joey, a roan horse bought at a county fair and sold to a military officer. In WWI 18 million horses were killed — but Joey somehow survives. The scenes where he leaps a barbed wire fence or is confronted by a tank are heart-stoppingly dramatic. By the end, when Joey is finally reunited with the boy who loves him, there isn’t a dry eye in the house and snuffles sound from every seat.
Joey, and all the horses in the show, are played by three men, two inside an astonishing construction of cane and painted nylon mesh and one standing outside, manipulating the head and neck.
The power of imagination, somehow, makes the men invisible, even as they remain on-stage whenever the horses do. The puppets, made by the Handspring Theater of South Africa, become snortingly, ground-pawingly, tail-twitchingly alive and the three men essentially disappear. One of the most moving moments, for me, was the death of one of the horses — as the three men silently and slowly withdraw from its shell, its spirit leaves the stage, and us, behind.
One of the great luxuries of living near New York City is easy access to some of the world’s best plays, musicals and concerts. Thanks to my husband’s job, we can get discount tickets whenever they’re offered, and the seats are usually amazingly good, like fifth or eighth row of the orchestra.
I love the imagination, training, research and talent it takes to create these powerful illusions: lighting, costume, music, actors, writing, staging, direction, sets. I’m incredibly lucky we can, occasionally, affordably and regularly savor such skill only an hour from home. It’s one the reasons I wanted to come to New York, and why I’ve stayed.
What’s the most memorable production you’ve ever seen?