Glance at the poster or the program for "War Horse" as you go in to see the play at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
The close-up image of a horse's eye, not only reflecting marching troops but the gut-wrenching trauma of war, is as expressive an illustration of what the multi-Tony-winning play is about as anything I can write here.
From there, the success of the road-tour production for you - from a theatrical point of view - depends on how well the life-size puppets can conjure up those cavalry horses (not to mention a few birds, including a testy goose that provides much-needed comic relief).
More to the point, it depends on how well 120 pounds of aluminum, fabric and cane can relate the panic, anguish and torment so hauntingly captured in that poster/program.
It also may all depend on where you sit with this fine and elegant production. A thrust stage would have plopped the audience right in the middle of the action a little better, but if any show can reach to the back of the cavernous Broward Center, it just might be "War Horse."
The play uses a variety of methods — haunting, mournful songs; recorded orchestral music; dry gallows humor; slo-mo battle scenes; chalky, animated projections — to tell the story of a boy named Albert (played by Alex Morf) raising his beloved horse Joey in the English countryside before the Great War separates the two. Joey is sold as an officer's mount and begins an epic that sees him serving both sides of the war while Albert, too young to enlist, runs away to find his horse and bring him home.
At times, the visuals, minimal and bathed in shadowy brown hues punctuated by bursts of bright, white light, go boldly into surreal territory and even thrillingly toward avant-garde theater.
While Nick Stafford's script based on Michael Morpurgo's novel (which also inspired Steven Spielberg's 2011 film) doesn’t really give Albert a character arc, there are some grab-your-hanky turns from German Capt. Friedrich Muller (Andrew May) and Albert’s mother, Rose (Megan Loomis).
But the real triumph is … no, I can’t call them puppets … the equine machinery that seems to breathe with sentient life in this powerful paean to peace.
"War Horse" plays through May 19 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 7:30 Sunday (May 12); 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesday, May 15. Tickets cost $39.50 to $79.50. Call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.