Americans who first became aware of the story of War Horse through Steven Spielberg’s 2011 movie may be shocked to learn that Michael Morpurgo’s book was first adapted as a play, and the play ran for years before Spielberg got his hands on it. But that’s crazy, you might think—how can you put enough horses, tanks, and soldiers in a play to create a believable war? The answer: stagecraft—the ancient art making you see and feel things that aren’t really there. The reason War Horse is so popular is that the stagecraft is crazy good. So good that it makes the impossible possible.
As impressive as the horse in Spielberg’s movie is, the horse that inspired him—a life-size equestrian puppet named Joey—is even more amazing. The stage version of Joey is more captivating precisely because he isn’t a real horse; he’s a bunch of wood and cloth animated by three extraordinary artists who bring the animal to life in a way that no mere creature of the flesh can match. The geniuses at London’s Handspring Puppet Company created Joey and gave him those eerily lifelike movements. They’ve even given a TED talk on how they did it, but you really have to see Joey to believe him—or believe in him, as the case may be. It’s artistry of the first order, not to be missed.
June 12–23. Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-339-7007, hennepintheatretrust.org