Sunday, March 25, 2012
The Centerpiece of War Horse: The Puppets.
I recently ventured up to Lincoln Center for the theatrical production of War Horse, which tells the story of how horses were used to fight in WWI. I had avoided seeing the big budget Spielberg movie, which wasn't really my thing, despite its Oscar nod. I had heard a great deal about the prodcution and was excited to see the performance.
To talk about War Horse without talking about the centerpiece horses would be like talking about Tom & Jerry without talking about the mice. The horses were created by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, the founders of the Handspring Puppet Company and is something they refer to as "adult puppet theatre." The horses are the stars of the show in my opinion, and are far from being simple felt faces with a hand stuck in its body. Watching the puppets leap and run on stage had me riveted in my seat for the two and half hour show.
The actual horse puppets are life size. One man stood in front, outside the horse, with one hand on the horses head and one holding a stick, that seemed to move bone structure–perhaps conveying the breathing of the horse, for I could feel it whinny, even from my seat in row O. This man always had his eyes cast downward, the creators say this allows the performer to disappear from the audience's perception. In addition to the man in the front, outside the horse, there were two more men within the horse, one moving the front two legs and one moving the back. While I was aware of the men in the horse they did at times blend in and become one living breathing unit. The three performers worked as one, a feat of amazing grace and agility.
One of my favorite scenes, which I felt brought together all the elements of the play: the staging, the set, the actors and the puppets was during a climax of the war scenes, about midway through the play. Music is at a crescendo, there are military men rushing around and the horses are attempting to leap over barbed wire and cannons. The horses gallop to the front of the stage, in the midst of crashing and burning and leap up, as if they are about to jump directly into the audiences lap. The lights flash and everything seems to go simultaneously black & white and in slow motion. And then everything freezes. And it's intermission.
The second half was less dramatic but it ties up the threads of the story well. I don't often want to see a play or movie more than once, but this one left me considering a second viewing.