Monday, March 14, 2016

The Woodsman ***

James Ortiz is a man of many talents. He is not only the playwright, but the set and puppet designer, co-director (with Claire Karpen) and star of this imaginative version of the back story of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. After three previous productions, the play has settled in at New World Stages. After a short prologue, words cease and the tragic tale is told through movement, mime, nonverbal exclamations, percussive sounds and marvelous Bunraku-like puppetry. The action is accompanied by Edward W. Hardy’s evocative score played by violinist Naomi Florin with lyrics by Jen Loring. The talented cast of nine portray Mick Chopper (Ortiz), his parents (Will Gallacher and Lauren Nordvig), his true love Nimmee (Eliza Martin Simpson), the tinker (Gallacher, Alex Gould and Amanda A. Lederer) and assorted munchkins (Benjamin Bass, Gould, Meghan St. Thomas and Sophia Zukoski).The actors also manipulate life-size puppets of the Wicked Witch of the West, a terrifying kalidah (half bear, half tiger) and the tin man. The lovely immersive set has lots of bare branches, dozens of hanging mason jar lights and a back wall of thick tree trunks. The lighting by Catherine Clark and Jamie Roderick adds greatly to the atmosphere. The forest sounds that greet the audience upon arrival also help set the mood. The peasant-like costumes by Molly Seidel are described as blue but looked gray to me. The play’s various elements blend seamlessly to produce an enchanted world. The use of puppets is the finest I have seen since War Horse. If you are intrigued by inventive stagecraft, you will have a fine time. If you prefer your storytelling more conventional, you may be unhappy. It is not recommended for children under eight. Don’t sit in the front row if an axe swinging near your head would make you nervous. Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission.

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