The most impressive horses I’ve ever seen onstage were at Stratford-upon-Avon four decades ago, in a production of “Richard II.” Until the other night, that is, when I beheld the wonder that is “War Horse,” at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
If you hesitate to plunk down the greenbacks to catch the National Theatre of Great Britain’s Tony Award-winning stage adaptation of Michael Morpungo’s novel—perhaps having already seen the Steven Spielberg film—you’ll really miss out. The movie arguably tells the story better, but to pass on the stage production would be a shame because they’re two completely different animals.
The stage show is an impressionistic spectacle whose highpoints include the lighting, the sound effects and above all the puppetry. The life-size puppet portraying the central figure of Joey, handmade by 14 people and manipulated by three, is a thing of beauty that will convince you it’s a living, breathing beast of burden. The actors pale by comparison, though John Milosich (the soloist) and Angela Reed (the mother) are impressive. Through Feb. 3; call (714) 556-2787.
The last horse that captured the popular imagination to the same degree may have been “The Black Stallion.” The man who brought that “utterly improbable story” about a kid and a wild stallion to the screen is one of modern cinema’s most gifted—and more iconoclastic—filmmakers. Coincidentally, he’s the subject of my latest ebook: “Carroll Ballard, Maverick Director: Behind the scenes on The Black Stallion, Fly Away Home and more.”
Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel once told me the horses they used for “Stallion” couldn’t swim, so they had to buy a couple of French horses. “They had pot bellies and incredibly ugly faces, and they were white. They were sent to Rome for $1000 worth of Miss Clairol and dyed black. When I [shot] the underwater stuff, the horses came into the water and started swimming, and they looked unbelievably graceful. They were the ugliest animals you’ve ever seen, but they were like Nijinsky underwater.” The ebook is currently available on Amazon: www.amazon.com/dp/B00B6U5VAW.
I got a sad email from Ballard a few weeks ago, in response to my enquiry about current projects. He busies himself with growing grapes in Napa Valley these days, “as I am unemployable in the Film Biz. Three strikes and you’re out. That's the dictum from the money people. Although there are at least twenty stories I'd just love to tell.”
Hot tip: “Shakespeare Uncovered,” a six-part series that tells the stories behind the Bard's best plays, premiered last Friday on PBS. The hosts include Ethan Hawke, Trevor Nunn, and Joely Richardson; Jeremy Irons and Derek Jacobi appear on this week’s episodes.
More from Jordan:
Ionesco’s ‘Chairs’ at STAGES, Off-Center Festival at Segerstrom http://www.examiner.com/article/ionesco-s-chairs-at-stages-off-center-festival-at-segerstrom
Guirgis’ ‘MoFo’ in Costa Mesa, Genet’s ‘Balcony’ in Fullerton www.examiner.com/article/guirgis-mofo-costa-mesa-genet-s-balcony-fullerton
How Laurel and Hardy inspired Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ http://shar.es/pmI2Z
Best of OC Theatre 2012
Academy Award Losers, 1912-1939: Great Performances in the Oscar Hall of Shame, Vol. 1 http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ARTJGOA
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