WAR HORSE Brings Story of Friendship, Magic of Puppetry to Stage

Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

WAR HORSE Brings Story of Friendship, Magic of Puppetry to Stage

By Stefanie Pohl. CREATED Dec 6, 2012

From the moment young Joey enters the stage, it's difficult to take your eyes off of him. The horse of the epic, Tony Award-winning play WAR HORSE comes to life through the mastery of puppetry, thanks to the magic of the Handspring Puppet Company.

And with every ear tilt, snort, and flick of a tail, Joey becomes more and more real.

While humans express themselves primarily with their eyes and mouths, horses communicate through these subtle motions of their ears and tails - something the three puppeteers in charge of bringing Joey to life are able to duplicate with supreme accuracy.

From the gentle heaving of breath to a rousing gallop, it's all too easy for the audience to believe the magic they see on stage.

WAR HORSE tells the story of Joey the foal, bought at auction by Ted Narracott (attempting to outbid his brother Arthur), and given to his son Albert. With gentle persuasion, Albert develops trust with young Joey, who grows and thrives under his care.

Joey becomes enlisted to fight for the English in World War I by Albert's father, but through circumstances ends up serving both sides of the war. Albert, too young to enlist, runs away from home on a mission to find Joey in the midst of war.

Though a play and not a musical, WAR HORSE features several English folk songs performed by cast members that help in establishing the mood and feeling of the period, adding depth to the storytelling.

Simple set pieces - especially a torn streak of white screen suspended above the actors, displaying the progress of time and seasons with delicate, handwritten script and imagery - allow the audience to gaze in wonder at each of the actors and their puppet counterparts.

From the stunningly tall and regal Topthorn to the sassy goose living on the Narracott's farm, the animals steal the show and focus of the audience whenever they're present. That's not to undermine The People of WAR HORSE, who help maintain the balance of the horrors of war while also making the audience laugh in even the darkest moments.

But ultimately, the tentative, persevering Joey - and his friendship with young Albert - is the heart of WAR HORSE. Andrew Veenstra brings a boyish, naive charm to the character of Albert, who clutches onto the hope of reuniting with his truest friend despite the direness of their circumstances.

Anyone who has experienced friendship with a four-legged creature will understand the love between Joey and Albert, and those who haven't before won't have trouble believing it.

Despite the magic on stage, it is just that real.

WAR HORSE will be at the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts through December 9th, 2012. CLICK HERE for show times and ticket information.