Theater Review: "War Horse" At The Ahmanson
“War Horse,” based on the book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, tells the story of the bond between a British boy, Albert (Andrew Veenstra) and his beloved horse Joey, and his fight to maintain that bond. In the midst of the outbreak of World War I, Joey is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. The play follows Joey on the battlefield and Albert’s journey to bring him back home.
The story is simple, but the production is rife with intricate details. The puppetry is the most notable aspect of this production, with three talented puppeteers (Joey: Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton, and Rob Laqui; Topthorn: Jon Hoche, Danny Beiruti, and Aaron Haskell) handling the life-sized horse puppets. The puppets are crafted with such artistry that as the play develops, the audience begins to view the horses not as mere representations of horses, but as real animals with personalities. The set (by Rae Smith), while minimalistic, is almost as mesmerizing as the puppets. The projections are animated pencil sketches of locations, scenery, and special effects that effectively progress the story and create dramatic effects. The unusual approach of using cinematic-style music (by Adrian Sutton) also serves as a strong tool to manipulate the highs and lows of the plot.
Marianne Elliot and Tom Morris' direction of this production, while showing the horrors of trench warfare and violence, has accomplished the difficult task of finding the delicate balance between heavy and light-hearted moments. Also impressive is the display of humanity; the Nazi captain Friedrich Muller (Andrew May) has a deep sense of human feeling—which May flawlessly captures—that is unusual in most portrayals of members of the Nazi party.
The strength of “War Horse” resides in its ability to reel in the audience with not only the entrancing artistry of Joey’s personality and structure, but also the binding friendship between Albert and Joey. By the end of the play, the audience finds itself heart-struck, and indeed enamored with the beauty of “War Horse.”
Reach staff reporter Liffany here.