Thursday, March 3, 2016


At first glance, The Woodsman seems to be yet another spin-off in America's obsession with The Wizard of Oz. When you're deciding which shows to see this season, you may be tempted to swipe left on this one, but that wouldn't be right. What could have been an ordinary prequel is actually an aesthetically rich piece of art that completely reimagines a land of Oz that is heavy on impulse and light on text. In fact, Nick Chopper's opening monologue that provides context within the Oz canon is the only significant chunk of dialogue in the entire piece. The rest is left to puppetry, stylized movement, and vocalization. The skill exhibited by the performers is quite fascinating as you believe the puppets are alive without much suspension of disbelief. Directors James Ortiz & Claire Karpen create a full sensory experience. It is visceral.

Speaking of Nick Chopper, the role is played by James Ortiz who wears many hats in this production at New World Stages. He is the writer, puppet designer, set designer, co-director, and lead actor. Eliza Martin Simpson plays the other significant role of Nimmee, his eventual love interest who has spent her life under the control of the Wicked Witch of the East. Nick, of course becomes who we know as the Tin Man after the witch enchants his axe and directs it to chop off his limbs. Wicked gave us one theory of the Tin Man's origin: The Wicked Witch of the East was so angry when she was scorned by Boq that she removed his heart and Elphaba turned him to tin out of pity. As far as magic is concerned, Ortiz' interpretation of L. Frank Baum provides a much more plausible explanation. The Witch of the East craved her control over Nimmee so much that she destroyed her lover to get her back. The penultimate scene in the piece is one of despair as we see Nick Chopper (in tin puppet form) alone, propped up by wires. The only glimmer of hope is the final scene where we see three symbols that are as ingrained in American culture as Betsy Ross's flag: a farm house, a pigtailed girl, and a pair of slippers. You know the rest.

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