After a cultural infusion of Titanic proportions I decided to join the stampede of reviewers who saw “War Horse” at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Center; paying a scalper price at the Herculean level, my expectations were massive and thrillingly surpassed; worth every scalped dollar. This stunning and imaginative tour de force, based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel about the perils of a horse named Joey, who was conscripted to champion England’s plight during WWI.
The staggering ingenuity and towering display of creativity is showered upon an audience immediately sucked into an emotional quicksand of monumental proportions; grown men cried.
The South African Handspring Puppet Company founded in 1981 by four graduates of Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town, South Africa, still being run by founders Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones. The renown South African artist William Kentridge has paired with Handspring on a myriad of projects, most recently “Woyzeck on the Highveld” based on the play by Georg Buchner. The puppeteers are the bones, guts, skeletal life- force of the horses; watching them bestow anthropomorphic qualities on obviously fake, amorphous structures is transformative; not since “Wall-E” have I intellectually and emotionally bonded with the blatantly false. If this is manipulation, I want a lifetime supply.
Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, the directors whose ethereal vision, boundless illuminating skills rain upon the viewer a historical, four year depiction of WWI from the perspective of the horses who fought, carrying their warriors, toward a goal worth the struggle and lives lost. Over eight million horses died in WWI; unknown, unnamed, unrecognized. Elliott and Morris through miraculous staging have created a long overdue testament to these unsung heroes; horses, stalwart in battle, fearless, fierce facing the the bloodcurdling cacophony of guns and tanks. A theatrical feat, unsurpassed, unmatched!
“War Horse” contains Shakespearean elements: love, jealousy, sibling rivalry; but concentrates on the partnership, gravitas between a boy and his horse, Albert and Joey; this marriage of man and mammal, a theme universally exploited, but never as distinctive, idiosyncratic as this interpretation.
Steven Spielberg is making a movie of “War Horse” without the puppets; an unimaginable travesty; chocolate chip cookies, without milk! Nonetheless, I will view it and review it. But for the moment, marinating in my psyche is this production that raises the bar of excellence to noble, stratospheric heights!