Many people are familiar with Hollywood’s The Wizard of Oz and the Tin Man—found in the woods with an ax in his hands and rusted in place from a storm that had passed. But did you know that this man was not always made out of tin? In fact, this Tin Man was once a woodsman made of out of flesh, blood and a real heart.
In the play The Woodsman, the audience is taken back to the days before he turned into tin and the house dropped on the Wicked Witch of the East. Writer James Ortiz constructed his version of the life of the Woodsman. Ortiz collected information from the original book and film and the history of the town that the Woodsman lived in up until the day Dorothy took her first step in Oz.
Playing the leading role as Nick Chopper the Woodsman, Ortiz is also the creator, co-director, set and puppet designer. Although not alone in making this performance possible, Ortiz’s talents are shown not only in his great acting abilities but also in bringing such a memorable childhood story to fruition.
In this production it is the ensemble and the violinist Naomi Florin who bring this performance to life. With Florin and the majority of the ensemble remaining on stage for the entirety of the performance, they are the ones who control the sounds and music. The ensemble manages the set changes and they contribute to the lighting with flashlights. The ensemble also creates sound effects, performs magic, and becomes parts of the set.
The puppets are one of the most important features in this production. Puppet designer Ortiz created puppets that add life to the magical people and creatures that exist within this world. In addition to their other duties, the cast members are also the puppeteers. Although the audience can see the ensemble controlling the puppets, the group of talented actors do a fantastic job at working seamlessly together. The puppets are like an extension of the actors as they move throughout the space and even appear from the shadows. With the help of one to four cast members the puppets become bigger than life. The voices of the puppets come alive by having multiple actors control these magical beings. Layers of sounds and eerie, enchanted sounds are also used.
Audiences are transported into a different world when they enter the theater. The ceiling and aisles are lined with lights, that are encased in mason jars, and hanging from trees. The space feels mystical and like when a story is about to be told to a child. Lighting designers Catherine Clark and Jamie Roderick use lighting delicately to create various shadows and the enchanted forest.
In order to allow quick transitions, Ortiz uses acting blocks that can be moved easily throughout the space to create various settings. Audience members who are not seated in the front row will probably not see one or two of the moments that happen on the stage. However, not seeing these moments will not prevent theatergoers from understanding what is happening.
Overall, The Woodsman is a heart-touching play that brings to life a story that has not been told. With the great music composed by Edward W. Hardy, meaningful lyrics by Jen Loring, and strong visuals envisioned by Ortiz, this play will remind any audience member of The Wizard of Oz and the infamous Tin Man.
The Woodsman runs until May 29 at New World Stages (340 West 50th St. between 8th and 9th Aves.) in Manhattan. Tickets range from $45-$105. To purchase tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or visit thewoodsmanplay.com.