BWW Reviews: Wartime Magic - WARHORSE at the Hippodrome

BWW Reviews: Wartime Magic - WARHORSE at the Hippodrome

Even if you're not a big theater buff, chances are you've heard of the 5-Tony-Awards-winning production, WAR HORSE, which came to the big screen courtesy of Steven Spielberg in 2011. Based on British writer Michael Morpurgo's 1982 children's book of the same name, WAR HORSE takes place about a century ago, at the time of the first World War.

Though the movie won many accolades, it pales in comparison to the magic created on stage; Baltimoreans can now partake in the best of Broadway as director Marianne Elliott's production of WAR HORSE is now at The Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore through Feb. 9th.

While the cast of more than 30 certainly provide fine performances, with many light, comical touches to relieve the tension, the real star of this show is the half-thoroughbred, Joey, the 120 pound puppet, made from cane, aluminum and a "stretched, hosiery-like Georgette fabrics which makes up the 'skin' beneath the frame," so sayeth the press release.

Operated by South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, the life-size puppets bring Joey and his equine compatriots to life (as well as birds and a scene-stealing goose). As my theater companion observed, though one could always see the human beings manipulating these intricately designed puppets, it was easy to suspend one's disbelief and view these artful inventions as living, feeling beings.

The set is spartan; a single door stands in for the home of Ted (Todd Cerveris) and Rose (Angela Reed) Narracott, and their 16-year-old son, Albert (Andrew Veenstra). Atop the stage is the giant recreation of a page torn from a sketch book (which will have meaning later in the play) upon which video and animation is projected, providing time, place, setting, as well as the explosive action of war.

It's no small feat to create in a way that is believable scenes like a tank attack (kudos to the Handspring Puppet Company for their version of the hulking WWI era British Mark I tank they created), a ship hurtling across rough seas, several cavalry charges, etc. With clever uses of light, music and song, the transitions between scenes, from a small farm in Devon, England (where Joey proves his mettle with a plow...as to how one plows a stage, well, see the show to find out) to the war-scarred trenches of France are seamless; it is truly a poetic performance, exploring powerful themes about how we define and determine life's value, whether it be human or animal.

WAR HORSE is a strong indictment against war; consider the scene where a British Tommy and a German infantryman put aside their differences to help disentangle Joey from barbed wire. Despite the language barrier...as well as a few other barriers...the two communicate what needs to be done to free the horse and come to an equitable agreement as to who should take ownership-a toss of a coin.

Presented at the Hippodrome as part of a North American tour that will eventually expand to Australia, Berlin, South Africa and the U.K., WAR HORSE comes in at two hours and 40 minutes (with a 15 minute intermission) in two acts. Like a horse dashing across a field, the time does fly by.

Performances take place at the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw Street in downtown Baltimore, today through Saturday, Feb. 8th at 8 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, and performances at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9th. Tickets range from $25-$100. For more information, visit www.warhorseonstage.com.




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Daniel Collins A communications professional for 25 years, Dan Collins was a theater critic for The Baltimore Examiner daily newspaper (2006-2009), covering plays throughout the Baltimore-Columbia area including Center Stage, The Everyman, The Fells Point Corner Theater, Mobtown Players, Vagabond Theater, Cockpit in Court, Spotlighters Theater, The Strand, Single Carrot Theater and others. Mr. Collins has been a reporter, features writer, editor and columnist since 1984, including stints with The Washington Times and the Times Publishing Group (later Patuxent Publishing and now part of The Baltimore Sun) in Baltimore. His freelance writing career has included his work for the Examiner as well as other publications including Baltimore Magazine.


 
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