BWW Reviews: Horsing Around with WARHORSE

By: Jun. 12, 2014
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A great poet named Robert Frost once said, "poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words." WarHorse, in much the same way, is a play that found its words in moments full of 'naysaying' and silence.

Those lucky enough to take on the adventure will watch as Albert Narracott, played valiantly by Michael Wyatt Cox, sets off on his journey of raising his horse Joey from a foal to a full-fledged stallion. The two go through the ups and downs of life together. All the while they assure one another that, although the world around them was quickly evolving, they would always have each other. Even as war ravishes the continent, Joey and Albert continue to learn and grow together.

Tuesday, June 10th was opening night for the Broadway phenomenon at The Overture Center in Madison, WI and though audiences seemed confused by segments of sharp Devon accents, viewers cannot deny the innate beauty that follows this show wherever it goes. The Handspring Puppet Company, concocted a menagerie of creatures alongside a massive piece of military equipment that would be carried by skilled puppeteers for two and a half hours of painstakingly accurate movements.

A concept of the countryside of Somme being invaded by machines, guns, and foreign forces clashed beautifully with the majesty of Joey and Topthorn (the two fully mechanized horses) as the show unfolded. Reminiscent of the 2002 film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron, the title character of the show Joey (not 'WarHorse' as the title would lead theatregoers to believe) requires no utterance of spoken language to invoke his truth to adoring crowds. Every whinny, huff, nuzzle, and dramatic rearing required as much gusto as the three puppeteers who manned the beast (Danny Yoerges, Adam Cunningham, and Dayna Tietzen) could muster.

Brendan Murray as Lt. James Nicholls

Thankfully for those that did some light pre-show reading with the novel on which the show is based, by Michael Morpurgo, WarHorse's written roots were not done away with. Above the characters hangs a fabric torn to look as though it were taken from Lieutenant James Nicholls' sketchbook. Through every scene, battle, and town, Nicholls' (portrayed by Brendan Murray in this production) drawings provide backdrop since the show itself lacks a true, definitive set.

Lacking the bulky set pieces the public is used to seeing on stage, WarHorse keeps focus on the simple beauty that it provides those who choose to embark on its mission.

A window, a door, and a goose, are all that is needed to create Albert's childhood home in Devon. Even Joey himself is nothing more than bent wood, some fabric, metal, and leather. It is what the company does with those simple materials that has mesmerized audiences all over the world.

The greatest and least speculated aspect of this particular show is its intriguing title. 'War' and 'Horse' are not two words that belong together. There is nothing natural about war and there is nothing artificial about a horse. What Stafford and Handspring Puppet Company's dichotomy has done is given the natural, living cast to the war and the artificial, mechanized aspects to the horse. Yet, unlike the relationship between war and the nature that inadvertently surrounds it, the story of Albert and his dear friend Joey is one of growth, love, and, acceptance.

Though all in all, it's just a story about a boy and his horse.

Video provided by Robert Chappell of The Overture Center


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