I’ve often joked that my idea of a perfect Friday night is staying at home and watching PBS. This past Friday proved my point when Theater Close-Up played The Woodsman, an absolutely stunning off-Broadway show depicting the Tin Man’s origin story. In the midst of a busy spring season, I never got around to seeing The Woodsman live, and perhaps it was even better seeing the filmed version. In a show that’s so heavily movement-based, it was great to be able to have close-up on the brilliant performers and to get a better look at the gorgeous puppets. The puppetry and movement is dazzling, and there were quite a few moments when I was thankful to be able to rewind and rewatch the powerful images on my screen.
After the opening narration, a couple’s love story is shown without words. It reminded me of Up‘s opening montage of Carl and Ellie’s love story, a wordless look into the entirety of two lives, set to beautiful music. Then the show continues without dialogue and I wondered how long they could keep this up for. And the answer is the whole show. For being a series of grunts, whistles, hisses, and screams, along with a beautiful score by Edward W. Hardy, provided by a lone violin, the show is surprisingly engaging and completely captivating. The show, for all its simplicity in concept, is so full of heart (it is the Tin Man’s story, after all). It actually feels like an extended a capella piece. Each of the actors is utterly brilliant. I don’t know how many “names” would be able to give such a nuanced performance without any dialogue, but I found myself crying on the couch on a Friday night, completely transfixed by what was happening on the stage. It is rare that a collective breath taken on stage can completely enrapture an audience. It left me breathless. In turn, each word uttered is given even more power, and shout-out to Jen Loring for her beautiful lyrics. In particular, “Rusting Tin Man” kills me each and every time I listen to it.
While I’m disappointed to have missed this show live, I’m glad I can revisit it any time I want thanks to PBS. I’ve already watched it a second time, and I know it won’t be the last! I’d be remissed if I didn’t mention James Ortiz, creator extraordinaire, leading man, set and puppet designer, and co-director, who is unequivocally brilliant and masterful in all he does! The show as a whole is completely breathtaking, imaginative, innovative, and quite simply beautiful. For knowing how the story will end, the show itself completely captivating. Not a single movement is in excess, and I didn’t dare blink, afraid to miss a single moment of brilliance. This is what all theater should be. Bravo to the amazing company and crew. I am in awe of their collective creative genius and I cannot wait to see what they do next!