On a bare stage, save for a large swath of what appears to be torn paper spanning the width of the arch, a man emerges with a sketchbook and begins to draw; his pictures appearing on the paper overhead as a melodic voice wafts up out of the darkness. Sketches.
Suddenly, a foal runs onto the scene; a cacophony of energy fills the stage as actors, using their bodies and simple wooden poles work in harmony to create an atmosphere of a complete reality, yet one where nothing is actually complete. Sketches.
The secrets in this story are not hidden. The inner workings of the production are in full sight. The set is not completely developed; the props are not fully fleshed out. Sketches.
War Horse is unconventionally enticing.
Because the story of War Horse is the story of Joey. And Joey is a horse. An animal is the main character of a multi-million-dollar and Tony Award winning production.
But Joey is no ordinary horse.
Joey, a foal, was bought for young Albert by his father Ted. When Joey matures (an eye-popping moment of transformation in the production), Ted decides to sell him to the English cavalry for the Great War. Shortly thereafter, word arrives at home that Joey’s rider has been killed. Albert is devastated at the thought that Joey may have been lost as well and hurriedly joins the army in hopes of reuniting with his best friend.
In the emotionally taxing, sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally humorous journey that follows, the story of War Horse skillfully exposes both the horrors of war and the strength of spirit as Joey proves his mettle and Albert proves his love.
The cast is strong and the story even stronger, but the real stars of this production are the horses themselves. Incredulously, the actors bringing Joey to life by donning the life-size frame all but disappear a few minutes after they arrive onstage. They work as a carefully orchestrated team, and it is here that mechanical engineering and creative artistry combine to form a living, breathing, magnificent horse.
There is a rare magic that happens when a compelling story flows in perfect concert with the technical elements of live theatre.
War Horse has that kind of magic.
War Horse is part of the PNC Broadway in Louisville series at the Kentucky Center and continues through Sunday, November 24. Ticket prices start at $25 and can be purchased online, in person at the Kentucky Center box office, or by calling 502-584-7777.
Photos © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg