Right around Christmas, the Spielberg film “Warhorse” hit movie theaters, and I was intrigued — except, I hadn’t seen the Tony Award-winning stage play yet, which I was determined to do first.
This past weekend, I finally got to see the play. It was definitely worth the wait, though I admit to being surprised in a few ways. So here it is: my review of Warhorse.
Of course, the big hype about the stage production at Lincoln Center is the magnificent puppetry involved with creating life-size horses for the cast to interact with. And to give credit where it is due, I’ll concede that the horses were incredible to behold.
Smaller horses are constructed by puppets held and controlled by on-stage puppeteers, and the sight was impressive… But when the story progresses and the adult horses appear, I literally gasped aloud. (The transition from younger horse into fully-grown horse is indescribable and incredible.)
With adults actually standing in the frame of the horse puppet, controlling its every movement, I found myself completely spellbound at first. The attention to detail is amazing, with the horse’s ears twitching and turning, the tail swishing and swatting, and a hundred other lifelike mannerisms. But what really astounded me wasn’t how great the puppetry was, but rather how quickly it stopped being impressive.
Not to say that the work became any less skillful or talented… But just that it was so well done that it only took a few minutes for me to stop thinking of it as a puppet at all. In unmistakably grand theatrical presentation, I quickly found myself accepting that the cast was talking to, training, and even riding actual horses. The illusion was so compelling that I stopped even noticing.
Having said all of that about the technique, I’ll say that the acting was fine — none of the actors were particularly amazing, but nobody struck me as lacking in talent or commitment. Everyone did a perfectly good job.
The story itself had the potential to be fodder for children’s movies of the lost-dog-finds-family-thousands-of-miles-away variety… A boy raises a horse, his father sells the horse to the Army for Calvary in the war, and the boy joins the military to go find his horse. I don’t want to say much more so that I don’t spoil anything, but I’ll acknowledge that some plot developments were predictable, and others defied expectations nicely.
Emotionally, the play puts you through the ringer. It’s a cliché, but: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll laugh while crying. The story tosses you between triumph and heartbreak, and everything in between, and it does so masterfully.
If you’re in New York, go see this play. If you’re between 21 and 35 years old (and have an ID to prove it) you can get $30 tickets through the LincTix program. But regardless, it’s worth every penny of the full ticket price, and then some.