Saturday, December 31, 2011

'War Horse': Stories Beyond the First Draft

There are some stories journalism just can't tell with the same impact. At least, after that first draft of history. World War I, of course, is one. Chronicled well by numerous 'embedded' reporters, the war led humanity into new directions of horror: horses suddenly were no match for early versions of tanks and machine guns. New industry meant new military advantages, and greater heartbreaks. Still, the animal's loyalty—as well as the humans who cared for him—somehow occasionally surpassed that of the atrocities.

And modern audiences are the better for one such story. Though first a novel, one specific tale of a boy and his horse during the war was best told not through newspapers. Or even films. But on the stage. Theatre at its finest takes those same truths that journalism holds so dear and invites—as does the fourth estate—the people to engage in it. It reveals each side of the story, and sets forth characters, conflict, and emotion that teach us far more than the who, what and where. In fact, it's such raw emotion, communicated through the artistry of theatre at its most imaginative, that viewers see the war as they never could in black and white newsprint.

My recent visit to New York's Lincoln Center production of the story "War Horse" moved and stirred me in ways equal to the best reporting, but requiring of me much more. It was truth-telling at its most revealing, where language came up short but the message remained stunningly profound. It is a story worth seeing well beyond any draft.

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