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1914 the world would be turned upside down as it was plunged into a world war. In some sense it was the end of conventional warfare and the beginning of mechanized monsters. Stuck in the middle was one aspect of every army that had no choice to participate but yet is one of the noblest of beings, horses.
Bijan Sheibani directs Nick Stafford’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel about one young man’s search for his noble horse during this horrific moment in history. From the young “hunter” horse’s first steps to being auctioned off and being befriended by a young man whose love for the horse will never be broken no matter what events may happen. This young man will travel and experience the horrors of war to bring his friend home safe.
From the opening moment of the show you cannot help but to become emotionally involved in this creature that is brought to life by some amazing individuals with a remarkable talent of movement. Handspring Puppet Company lends its gift of abstract art of a puppetry by creating Joey, the “hunter” horse who truly steals the show. The three individuals bringing Joey to life this evening are Jon Riddleberger, Patrick Osteen and Jessica Krueger. All of whom are masters of bringing this horse to life so well that you forget it’s a puppet.
The puppetry does not stop there with three other magnificent horses and one goose you just can’t help but laugh at every time he strolls onto the stage, especially when trying to get into the house. Along with Joey is his nemisis/friend in arms Topthorn brought to life by Danny Beiruti, Aaron Haskell and Jon Hoche who also doubles as the goose. Bravo to all of these puppeteers and those not mentioned for all their hard work and brilliant interpretations.
This is just a small part of a much larger cast with which there are many as we span several years and counties in this short adaptation. Of course rising up to drive this story of love, faith and friendship is Andrew Veenstra as Albert Narracott. His strong performance is chilling and heartening as you follow his story to get his horse. Assisting in the flow of both Joey’s and Albert’s tale is the haunting ‘song man’ played by John Milosich. His voice sings out linking Joey and Albert through each turn in their journey.
This staging of WarHorse is simply glorious in all aspects. From the lighting to costuming to the details of the staging of trench warfare, it is a testament to using the minimalist use of materials to drive home the point of this story of true friendship. The use of the overhead ‘strip’ of paper to fill as the backdrop and give a different expression as a set helps round out this brilliant show. Using the cast as set pieces, helps bring the sense of everything around the main story, has a life that is being affected just as much, during this trying time.
It is an evening of astonishing visuals and harrowing acts of valor by many just to show us of something we sometimes take for granted, the love, friendship, loyalty, trust and faith we put into something we love. This may be a story of a boy and his horse but it truly goes beyond that and shows how we sometimes overlook the beauty right in front of us. Get out and see this masterful stage show.
My little bit of wisdom of life that I always do at the end of my reviews. For those new to my reviews I tie in the show to real life and give introspect. The show is pretty straight forward, a boy searching for his horse during the most troubled time in the world. But delving deeper it is about this horse that has seen just as much in life as the boy. Through his eyes, Joey, has seen joy, loss, love, respect and death. We as humans sometimes forget that animals live in their own way. They have their own way of communication and have behaviors that are just as we are. As with me I have not always liked little dogs. Sorry to say but I always looked down upon little dog’s due to most I came across are very yippy. That is until we got Diego. He came to us as a rescue dog. A very bad background of five years that we have slowly been erasing by giving him the love and care all animals should receive. This little fellow has had a life so rough, it parallels a dear person in my life. It is this little connection that I have fallen even more enamored by him. Like Albert and Joey, Diego is my buddy and part of my family. He will always be treated as such since he brings joy to our home. So next time you look at an animal and think you are better than them, just look in their eyes and imagine.
See “WarHorse” at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts January 22, 2013 – February 3, 2013.
Follow my adventures in entertainment in Southern California on Twitter @SCThrillsMarc.