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War Horse at the Orpheum

Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

War Horse, the National Theatre of Great Britain hit that became a Tony winner, arrives in town with all of the spectacle intact. It's a big, bold production that's at its best when Joey, the puppet horse at the center of the story, is on stage. When we get to the human stories, it becomes a bit more rote — with the talents of the actors crushed down to fit into the staging. Set in the early years of the 20th century, War Horse follows teenager Albert and his beloved Joey. What was a coming-of-age story — about a boy standing up to his abusive father — takes a decidedly dark turn with the outbreak of World War I. Joey is sold to the British army and sent to France. Albert lies about his age, enlists, and heads off to find his horse. To the play's credit, this isn't a completely sanitized version of the trenches. Death is around every corner, and the terrors of modern warfare — from machine guns to barbed wire to artillery — are all represented. The puppetry, originally created by the Handspring Puppet Company, is exquisite, as the various horses are given distinct personalities by three-performer teams. In the play's most striking sequence, Joey breaks free of all of his handlers and rushes through No Man's Land, surrounded by terrors seemingly summoned from Hell: bullets and bombs and a skeletal tank, before finally being trapped in the cursed wire that brought down so many others. The humans have a harder time, but Alex Morf, a St. Olaf grad who started his career in the Twin Cities, is solid as Albert. —Ed Huyck


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