Review by Daniel Dunlow
14 February 2016
Brave, courageous, and full of heart. There’s no play like The Woodsman. There’s no play like The Woodsman. There’s no play like The Woodsman.
Now that the The Wizard of Oz puns are out of the way, opening up at New World Stages is incredibly innovative new play The Woodsman which tells the story of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz in his transition from man who chops down trees to becoming the rusted, metal creature in the woods that we all know from the indelible L. Frank Baum novel, and subsequent movie. You may be thinking to yourself that this is ultimately what that long-running Broadway “gem” Wicked is about; and you’re right. However, there is one major difference. The Woodsman succeeds in pure, simple, and concise story telling without the use of words. That’s right. Just a monologue or two of text in this 70-minute powerhouse, and the audience stays glued to the story like a Charlie Chaplin film.
The story is told masterfully through physical acting, clowning, music, and beautiful puppetry. Though this may sound like a Ringling Brothers routine, it has the theatrical precision of a Sondheim, the heart of a Tennessee Williams, and the drama of an Arthur Miller.
The design of the production by James Oritz (who also wrote and co-directed) is seamlessly integrated into performance, drawing our minds back to “found-prop” theatre techniques developed and used so beautiful by Peter and the Starcatcher. Wooden crates become walls, trees, and chairs, while company members give character to the most mundane everyday objects such as spoons, books, and sticks.
The company quite literally breathes life into this production, and in that they are flawless. They work together to give life to puppets controlled by more than one company member, they play three of four characters within the minute of stage time, and they leave it all out on the stage in this hour-long tour-de-force. This is all thanks to some of the most innovative direction by James Ortiz and Claire Karpen. They create potent poetic and dramatic moments that cannot be seen on any other New York stage today.
The storytelling that occurs without text is so clear that in a split instant something so true can happen that it brings the audience to tears. I’ll be honest, I had to wipe tears from my eyes– not because something tragic had happened, but because something so pure, simple, and honest occurred on the stage.
Simplicity is activated in its greatest from over at New World Stages in this production. See this once-in-a-lifetime theatrical experience.
"Although the narrative is diffusely conveyed at times, many of the individual sequences are vividly rendered, most notably Chopper's gruesome transformation into the Tin Man."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"The puppeteers are proficient and the effects are exquisite...the life-sized tin puppet of the woodsman (tenderly manipulated by Ortiz) is heartbreaking."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...