Angela Reed is familiar to Denver audiences from her work with the Denver Center Theatre Company. She returns to town in the national tour of War Horse, playing Denver’s Buell Theatre Jan 8-20. Angela graciously took a moment out of her hectic schedule to answer a few of our questions.
Q: Denver audiences last saw you in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s world premiere hit, The Whale, which has since been produced by Playwrights Horizons. Did you have a chance to see it in New York? What was your experience being on the other side of the curtain?
A: Unfortunately I was not able to see the show in NY because I’ve been on tour with War Horse and have not been in NY since we hit the road in May. I know that NY audiences loved it and I’m so proud to have been a part of the production in Denver. I’d love to get the opportunity to work with the playwright, Sam Hunter, again. He’s a joy to be around in and out of the rehearsal room. And all of us who worked on The Whale in Denver have remained good friends. I miss them!
Q: You have a lot of “firsts” on your resume — first national tours of War Horse and Spring Awakening plus the world premieres of The Whale and Map of Heaven and we know you’ve been a past participant in our Colorado New Play Summit. Are you particularly drawn to newer works? If so, why?
A:I’d say I probably do prefer working on new plays because I really enjoy the process of having the writer in the room and helping in some small way to develop the piece. I think it’s a luxury for an actor to be able to talk directly to the person who created the character for clarification or insight. Overall, however, I’m “drawn” to great material. And there are a lot of playwrights writing rich, complex plays today that are exciting to work on.
Q: What can you tell us about your character, Rose Narracott, in War Horse?
A:Rose is resourceful, resilient and determined to keep her family together. She loves her son, Albert, and her husband, Ted, and it devastates her to see them fighting. I think Rose has a huge heart and a good sense of humor, which probably helps her again and again in the face of adversity.
Q: Why should our typical Denver Center Theatre Company audience “cross the Galleria” to see War Horse in our Broadway house?
A:Shows like War Horse come around so rarely — if at all. It’s a theatrical experience like no other to date. The craftsmanship of the puppets, and the skill of the puppeteer, will have you believing that there are living, breathing horses on the stage before you. And the story is beautiful. Michael Morpurgo, the author of the book, has called War Horse “an anthem for peace”. What a great way to start the New Year — reinvesting in messages of hope, faith, sacrifice and love.
Q: Do you enjoy national tours? A lot of packing but a lot of sightseeing too, right?
A:I love seeing the country and getting the opportunity to explore so many cities. And because my husband, Todd Cerveris, is also in the show (playing my husband, Ted!), we get to travel together. With our dog. In a car. And this is the second time we’ve done this, having been on the road together for Spring Awakening as well. We’ve racked up thousands of miles and our dog has stayed in more hotels than the average person.
Q: It’s early in the tour, but probably not too early to be thinking about your next opportunity. Will we see you back in Denver anytime soon?
A:I still have another six months to go on the War Horse tour, so I can’t predict what will come after that. And because I really need to be in NY to audition for upcoming projects, being on the road makes getting the next job more difficult. That said, I would LOVE to come back to Denver. This marks my fourth winter in a row that I have been in Denver at some point to work. I only hope that next time I have the opportunity to be here in the spring, summer, or fall!
Tony-Award winning stage spectacle moves families, audience members to tears
By David Freeland
War Horse, the astounding theatrical experience opening this week at The Buell Theatre, exerts its pull from the moment the title character, Joey, first trots on stage as a foal, petted by his owner and best friend, 15-year old Albert. The audience gasps, aware that Joey is a puppet, not a real horse, but captivated by the way he shudders and whinnies at Albert’s loving touch. Joey’s lifelike eyes, shining and reflective, draw us into the soul of his journey; as the evening progresses, and Albert sets out to rescue Joey after he has been sold to the English cavalry, we find ourselves carried along and hoping for Joey to make it home.
It’s that kind of emotional power that has made War Horse an international phenomenon, sweeping up audiences and awards on both sides of the Atlantic and even inspiring an Oscar®-nominated film directed by Steven Spielberg. War Horse won five 2011 Tony® Awards (including Best Play) for its New York premiere plus a Special Tony® Award for Handspring Puppet Company for creating the 11 puppets at the heart of the show.
“One of the things we like to imagine,” observes Basil Jones, who runs Handspring with co-founder Adrian Kohler, “is people in the audience nudging the person next to them, saying, ‘did you see that?’”
Set during the First World War, War Horse combines a powerful story with thrilling stagecraft and music. In addition, it showcases what may be the most inventive use of puppetry ever seen on stage. Soon after meeting him as a young horse, we watch in amazement as an adult Joey, seven feet tall, materializes before our eyes. Two puppet masters working inside Joey’s frame (built of light, malleable cane) raise and lower his torso, letting out forceful breaths, while a third manipulates his ears, lifting and pulling them back to register tender shades of emotion. Spielberg’s film version of War Horse employed real horses, but these onstage creations fully personalize equine ideals of courage, strength and loyalty in ways that reinforce the themes of the story.
“Spielberg made a terrific film,” enthuses Michael Morpurgo, upon whose beloved novel War Horse is based, “but cinema has its limitations. It isn’t live, and that’s the difference. What’s amazing about the stage show is that, whether it’s the music, design, or lighting, the puppets, the quality of acting or direction, it’s ingenious and unique. It’s a theatrical event.”
During World War I, more than one million horses were conscripted by the British military alone; of these, only 62,000 returned. As Joey is forced into battle, serving in both the British and German armies, we are moved by his bravery and the trust he places in those who exploit his strength. His innocence makes him seem above the fighting: in War Horse, animals behave with a dignity that humans do not always achieve. Still, Joey is unprepared for the true brutality of 20th century warfare. In a brilliant scene that defines the excitement of Act Two, he faces a new kind of foe: a massive tank rolling his way, prepared to flatten everything in its path. The scenic design is so visceral that we are rushed into battle alongside Joey, enveloped in the sound and smell of combat. Joey rears on his hind legs as the tank pitches toward him and the stage goes black.
“The First World War is emblematic,” suggests Mervyn Millar, War Horse’s puppetry director, “in the way the possibilities of destruction changed. You see Joey standing, looking at the tank, which advances without logic, without thought. Joey tries to work out what it means, what it wants, and it doesn’t want or mean anything. It just destroys.”
Joey’s plight resonates with anyone who has ever loved an animal or taken a pet into the family. As Albert continues his search, we are reminded of the ways in which animals remain with us through many stages of our lives, giving much and asking for little.
“People emotionally invest in animals,” Millar believes. “I think everyone can empathize with Joey.”
Determined to save his friend, Albert runs away from home with the hope of getting close to the front. But in trying to rescue one family member, he hurts another, leaving behind a mother anxious with worry. War Horse’s relevance comes from our awareness that, nearly a century after the start of the First World War, families are still being separated by armed conflict.
“We talk a lot about the history of the war,” remarks Chris Harper, producer for the National Theatre of Great Britain (which first staged War Horse in London), “but at the heart of the show it’s just a family, struggling to deal with life. The thing that’s exciting about War Horse is that it appeals to lots of generations. We see grandparents bringing their kids, wanting to explain the history from their own personal journeys with World War II or more recent conflicts. It’s a production that brings the family together.”
Will Albert find Joey in time? As War Horse reaches its beautiful climax, the hopes of parents, children, and beloved friends – both onstage and off – merge into a shared experience, as tissues are drawn from pockets and eyes glisten with tears.
“We get people coming back again and again,” Harper explains, “and they always have the same reaction. It awakens something in you. War Horse makes grown people cry.”