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The Woodsman: Theater review by Raven Snook
[Note: After successful earlier runs at 59E59, including the one reviewed here, The Woodsman has now reopened for an open run at New World Stages.]
Even before writer, codirector, set- and puppet-designer star James Ortiz asks the audience to “imagine” in a brief prologue, we’ve already been thrust into a dark corner of Oz, where gnarled branches loom and unsettling noises signal danger. Strangemen & Co.’s immersive and practically wordless adaptation of the writings of L. Frank Baum uses low-tech stagecraft like evocative Bunraku puppets (the wicked witch is chilling), haunting vocal sound effects and a lone violinist (composer Edward W. Hardy) to tell the backstory of Dorothy’s cherished Tin Man (Ortiz), once a mortal axman who sacrificed an arm and a leg and a whole lot more in the name of love. Emotions are communicated through simple gestures, grunts and glances, not one wasted. Touching on mortality, futility and fate, The Woodsman is a grown-up fairy tale that proves happiness is a worthwhile goal, even if it doesn’t last ever after.—Raven Snook
The Woodsman. 59E59 (Off Broadway). By James Ortiz. Based on the writings of L. Frank Baum. Directed by Ortiz and Claire Karpen. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr. No intermission.