Dazzling ‘War Horse’ showcases masterful puppetry, unique storytelling

Dazzling ‘War Horse’ showcases masterful puppetry, ...

Dazzling ‘War Horse’ showcases masterful puppetry, unique storytelling

The most impressive cast member of the play War Horse, now at TPAC through Sunday, is a gigantic horse puppet.

While that might not sound as glamorous as some of Broadway’s most memorable leading characters, the beating heart of the solemn, inspiring show lies directly with Joey, the horse with hooves of gold.

Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s book of the same name, War Horse is a devastating-yet-triumphant look at the horrors of war and the bond that can develop between a man and his trusted animal companion.

Taking place in across Europe in the 1910s, the story follows Joey, a young horse who is sold into the care of the Narracott family. Throughout Joey’s days in the foal stage, the horse develops a strong relationship with Albert, son of the Narracotts.

Like all great boy-and-his-dog relationships, Albert and Joey become an inseparable pair. But, when World War 1 begins, Joey is sold into the army without Albert’s knowing, and the young man begins a dangerous journey through the battlefield to find his galloping friend.

Similar to Steven Spielberg’s 2011 film adaptation, the play primarily follows Albert and Joey’s journey through the war with various characters popping up at times, most representing different aspects of war and the toll it can take on a civilization. The play has a bleak picture to paint of war, and that image is skillfully woven into the narrative.

The show also features one of this critic’s favorite scenes in fiction – one that finds two opposing soldiers in a climatic game of heads-or-tails that beautifully illustrates the good of humanity in one of life’s worst situations.

The team of John Milosich (vocal) and Spiff Wiegand (instrumental) also beautifully weave in music throughout the show that adds an additional layer to the storytelling.

While the entire cast offers gripping performances (special notes go to Michael Wyatt Cox’s great turn as Albert and Andrew May’s powerful take on Captain Friedrich Muller, a disillusioned German soldier), the puppeteers behind Joey deserve a boatload of the play’s cheers.

James Duncan, Brian Robert Burns and Dayna Tiezen help make Joey a multi-dimensional character, one with fears, hope and a fight to survive. It’s hard to believe that this much personality could be shown through a performance like this, but Joey’s puppeteers go above and beyond to provide the audience with an instantly classic portrayal. The mechanics alone behind Joey’s build are fascinating to watch.

Other horses are brought to life throughout the show, and those respective puppeteers do just as good of a job of making the animals in the show just as impactful as the human characters.

Through its memorable storytelling and its impeccable puppetry, War Horse cements itself as one of the finest shows to see on stage at the moment.

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