The moment you walk into the theatre at New World Stages you are transported to another world. Immersed in a woodland soundscape and surrounded by an enchanted forest, the warm light of twinkling Edison bulbs strung up in mason jars, and hundreds of wood carved portraits, you intuitively know this is going to be a magical mythic story of love and loss. I went in expecting a skilled and unique telling of the origin story of the Tin Man and boy, does The Woodsman deliver.
Based on the writings of L. Frank Baum, author of the American fairytale the Wizard of Oz, The Woodsman gives us a glimpse into one of his 13 prequels to the classic story and a deeper view on one of America’s most beloved film characters. The Woodsman tells the story of Nick Chopper, the woman he loved, and the Wicked Witch that would stop at nothing to keep them apart. Strangemen & Co breathes life into this dark story with spectacular bunraku style puppetry, with flawless movement coordinated by Will Gallacher, and hauntingly beautiful original music by composer Edward W. Hardy.
In fact, there is no dialogue throughout the show. Words have become dangerous, so the Munchkins of the East Land of Oz have learned to forgo language altogether. Instead the troop communicates solely via physical theatre, and the result is stunning. At no point does one miss the dialogue during the 70-minute show. The physical communication between the actors is so intensely engaging that a single unified breath from the 11-person cast could bring tears to your eyes. I was spellbound by their intricate storytelling and found myself laughing aloud at the honesty and humanity of their performance. The Woodsman may lose his heart but this show certainly has enough of it.
Not only is the Woodsman the brainchild of James Ortiz, the lead of the show, but he also crafted the otherworldly set and puppets. The puppets alone are worth the ticket price. Large life-size puppets that require several actors to complete their nuanced movements allow the story to easily move beyond what is humanly possible and into the supernatural. The intricacy and scope is awe inspiring; ranging from the beastly–a humongous animal body of a lion and head of a bear–to the heartbreaking articulations of the Tin Man.
This darkly charming theatrical piece might be appropriate for sophisticated young adults, but this story really is for anyone who is curious about the true origins of the Tin Man. Just be prepared to immediately want to dust off your copy of the Wizard of Oz so that you may finally have the happy ending to this simultaneously heart wrenching and heart warming story.