War Horse at the Straz: It's magical

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Joey comes into Albert's life after his father buys the foal in an auction, a purchase the family really can't afford. In order to keep the horse, Albert must train him to plow, and the process is magical to watch. Like Albert, I fell in love with Joey immediately. So did the little girl next to me, who was hysterically crying at the end of the first act when Joey gets sold to fight in the war. (Though the play is based on a children’s book, the Straz Center’s website does recommend the play for ages 10 and up.)

The second half of the play, which takes place mainly in Calais in northern France, follows Joey through the war and Albert's efforts to find him after enlisting. Not only does the puppetry allow you to suspend belief, but so do the sets, often just a door and a window to depict a house or a cast member holding a long pole to portray a fence. Similarly, it's easy to accept that characters are speaking languages foreign to each other even though they're speaking in English. It's a little hard to explain, but you’ll just have to suspend your own belief and take my word for it. I'm not quite sure how good Alex Morf, playing Albert, or any of other actors were; I was too enamored and focused on the puppetry.
So… I might have to go back just to pay attention to the human actors — and I wouldn't mind spending another 145 minutes to do so. Seeing War Horse again would be worth it.

Through Sun. May 5; 7:30 p.m. Thurs, 8 p.m. Fri., 2 and 8 pm. Sat., 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun.; Straz Center, 1010 N Macinnes Pl.; $44.50 and up with group, student and military discounts available; 813-229-7827

click to enlarge The amazing Joey. - Photos © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
Photos © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
The amazing Joey.

click to enlarge The amazing Joey. - Photos © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
Photos © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
The amazing Joey.
  • Photos © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
  • The amazing Joey.

There are many things that could turn people away from seeing War Horse. A play about a horse? Eh. A play about a horse that uses puppetry? Eek. A play about a horse that uses puppetry that is 145 minutes long? Oh, no.

But I am glad I didn’t let my preconceptions get in the way, and I’m sure the packed house of Tuesday night’s show at the Straz Center was glad to be there as well. The play, based on Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book of the same name, is about a boy, Albert, who loses his childhood horse, Joey, to British troops during WWI, and the great lengths he endures to get him back. The stage adaption, which was first shown at the Royal National Theater of London in 2007, commissioned the South African puppet company Handspring to make Joey and the rest of the horses come to life, and come to life they do. The three people who operate the horses, which are made of metal, wicker, and fabric, quickly disappear as we focus on what is seemingly a real live horse on stage. From the breathing to the fly-swatting tails, no details of the horses’ personalities are left untouched.

About The Author

Stephanie Powers

Freelance contributor Stephanie Powers started her media career as an Editorial Assistant long ago when the Tampa Bay Times was still called the St. Petersburg Times. After stints in Chicago and Los Angeles, where she studied improvisation at Second City Hollywood, she came back to Tampa and stayed put.She soon...
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