Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 20, 1971 when parishioners settled on a site for the new St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Oxford.
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wh2-355_War-HorseA scene from the National Theatre of Great Britain production of "War Horse" (Photo by Paul Kolnik)

NEW YORK – "War Horse," a new play from London at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Playhouse, is a critic-proof audience pleaser, as well as a two-handkerchief weeper.Earlier this month, it won a Tony Award for best play and five other Tonys.

A brilliantly theatrical spectacle, it echoes several vastly popular family entertainments, like "National Velvet," Old Yeller" and even the musical "Cats." It is a simple story of a boy, Albert Narracott (Seth Numrich), and his beloved horse Joey. We first see Joey as a foal and then as a fully grown horse, who at the start of World War I is heartbreakingly sold to a cavalry regiment heading for France.

A program note informs us that this was a common occurrence and that a total of eight million horses died during World War I. One million horses like Joey were shipped to France to be used by the British and only 62,000 returned to Great Britain. All of this was pretty much for naught since by 1914 war horses were antediluvian and machine guns were used in most engagements along with new trench warfare devices like barbed wire, tanks and poison gas.

What makes the "War Horse" unique and theatrical is that all the horses are portrayed by extraordinary life-sized puppets from the Handsprung Puppet Co. of Cape Town, South Africa. Magnificently designed by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, they are brought realistically alive by an expert team of puppeteers, a fact that tends to dwarf anything else that happens on stage. By play’s end, you’ll be so mesmerized by these puppet horses that you will wish you had filled your pockets with sugar cubes as a reward for their artful performances. Besides Joey, there are three other puppet horses on stage: Coco, Heine and the towering 7-foot-tall Tophorn.

"War Horse" is based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 British children’s book and has been adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford. It began as a Christmas show at the National Theatre and proved so popular that it moved to the West End for an extended run.

A film version of "War Horse" that uses real horses has been completed by Steven Spielberg and is set to be released in December.

As a play, "War Horse" chases after greatness, which it never really achieves. The main fault is Mr. Stafford’s flat adaptation, which uses every old-fashioned trick in Playwriting 101 without adding anything really inspired or poetic to Mr. Morpurgo’s basic children’s storybook. This is particularly noticeable in Act Two, in which he strings together a series of melodramatic battle-related scenes that all seem to end on one note: bathos.

You cannot blame the play’s excellent designers, Rae Smith (sets, costumes and drawings) and Paule Constable (lighting); or its expert directors, Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, who use all the contributing arts of the stage – music, song, dance, projections and drawings, plus even a charming, disruptive goose puppet – to keep "War Horse" from becoming moribund.

Yet, in the end, it is the outstanding horse puppets, especially those depicting Joey’s saga with Albert, that win the audience over and capture its heart. By play’s end, most playgoers are moved to tears or are sobbing – so much so that I was afraid I would need a lifeboat to get me out of the theater.

 

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.