Review: “The Woodsman” at New World Stages (Closed Sunday May 29, 2016)

February 9, 2016 | Off-Broadway | Tags: , ,
By James Ortiz
Music Composed by Edward W. Hardy, Lyrics by Jen Loring
Directed by James Ortiz and Claire Karpen
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“What hope is there for an escape from evil?” (Nick Chopper)

“The Woodsman,” the new theater piece by James Ortiz, is inspired by the back story of the “Tin Man” before Dorothy arrives in Oz and is adapted from the beloved writings of L. Frank Baum. It is an inventive, magical journey empowered to be told with sparse dialogue, beautiful haunting music, ingeniously captivating puppets, and a remarkable cast that is able to embody and exude endless natural sounds and conjure up an array of heartfelt emotions. This current production affords this winning combination to unlock the powerful communication needed to encompass all senses and eventually capture your heart. It is pure, honest, human and a theatrical feast.

The tall lanky Mr. Ortiz is superb as Nick Chopper, with telling limbs that seem to touch the sky, poke a cloud and cause an emotional rainstorm. The sublime Eliza Martin Simpson inhabits the role of Nimmee, the witch’s slave, with grace, vulnerability and understanding. Both these actors are extremely generous, confident in every turn to release irrepressible energy to exhibit incredibly passionate commitment. Under the direction of James Ortiz and Claire Karpen the ensemble is brilliant as they each portray several characters, sing, and produce most of the sound effects. As they maneuver the remarkable puppets, they inescapably become their souls. They infuse their puppets with genuine, intentional movement. Their bodies twist and turn while their faces contort, grimace and relax to reveal all.

Amanda A. Lederer and Sophia Zukosksi bring the Witch to a haunting reality as she does all she can to destroy the love between her slave Nimmee (Eliza Martin Simpson) and Nick Chopper. And Tinkers Will Gallacher and Axex J. Gould reconstruct Nick Chopper with tin parts that replace his missing limbs. Nick’s transformation to the Tin Man is spellbinding.

The music by Edward W. Hardy is complimentary and evokes all the necessary moods required to enhance each scene. It is delivered by a solo violin played with competent precision by Naomi Florin and accompanied by the accomplished vocals of the ensemble. Lyrics by Jen Loring are intelligent and integrate well into the storyline.

Perhaps the most revealing part of this production is the collaboration which seems to be the evident element for success. Everything depends on everything here and all components are equal. It is obviously Mr. Ortiz’s vision but it is the creative team and cast who make it visible and viable. They search and seize the meaning of love and loss. They empty their hearts simply to fill yours and give us hope that all who reside just East of Oz can live with the confidence that there is indeed a way to escape from all that is evil.

Do yourself a favor and luxuriate your senses in this impassioned production of “The Woodsman.”