On average, I’d say my husband and I go to the theatre about 15 times a year — maybe even a bit more. Our kids? Not so much. A lot of the time, New York productions skew either too old (inappropriate) or too young (can you help the Princess find her way home? Clap three times everyone!). We do love going to The New Victory, for unusual, innovative productions. I just bought our subscription for the year, as a matter of fact. But other than the occasional Broadway musical and the New Vic, the kids don’t go to the theatre with us very much. (Though we do go to dance: Alvin Ailey is a perennial favorite, as is Parsons Dance, as long as David Parson’s piece “Caught” is on the bill. Plus, I force them to see at least one classical ballet each year. Cuz I’m mean.)
My son has complained that he only ever gets to see musicals – never a play. And I can’t say I disagree. But do I really want him – does he really want – to sit through a meditation on the morality of war photographers, and the essence of what it means to be present? (Donald Margulies‘ Time Stands Still, last season at Manhattan Theatre Club) Would he enjoy a play about a small town that’s really about birth, death, and everything in between? (Will Eno’s Middletown, at The Vineyard Theatre last season.)
Which is why I was excited about War Horse, the hugely successful play from The Lincoln Center Theatre at the Vivian Beaumont. Based on the young adult novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse tells the story of a boy and his horse, of the drunken father who sells the horse to the British Army for use during World War I, and the boy’s journey to find and save his horse – even as he saves himself. The extraordinary thing about this production, is the puppetry. The horses are all played by actors with horse-sized puppets – as many as three people are needed to operate just one of them. The puppets, and the actors acting through them, are extraordinary.
There is some artistically staged violence. There is some reference to drinking. There is death. A lot of it. Because much of the second act takes place on the battle fields of WWI. (Though the death of horses seems more calculated to upset than those of the human soldiers) The themes of the play are predictable but accessible: loyalty, perseverance. Love of family…and of pets. Responsibility. There’s really nothing in here that would be particularly hard for kids to take – or to understand.
But will they like it?
Kids younger than 10 might find some of the scenes a bit scary. And even many ten year olds will find the war scenes and even the arguments between drunken father and son a bit frightening. But sophisticated kids 11-and up will love (as did I) the spectacular, and impressive puppetry. They will – if they have ever had a pet – identify with Albert and his love for his horse, Joey. The second act is a bit long. But I think overall, they will like the story, love the imagery, and get a sense of just how inventive live theater staging, sets, and art direction can be. No 3D glasses necessary.