Thursday, December 22, 2011

Only Remembered

This was a happy happy day. After class, I finally made the successful trip to Cass Art to get that box of artist's supplies. And used some coupons and got a piece of paper for my final project. This meant walking home with a bag chock-full of stuff slung over a shoulder. The box had a scarlet inkwell, two oil paints, two acrylics, masking fluid (which I am informed is for making white space in watercolor paintings and it rubs off unlike crayon), a watercolor tube, and some sticks that are like charcoal/chalk/crayon hybrids. I am inexpert with those. But if I figure out how to use them, they should be fun. So with this chock-full bag (I was also carrying my backpack) I found my way to the Handweaver's Studio before heading home because I'd wanted to for a while. I found a hand spindle that is much better than my cd-pencil-and-clay handmade one (because it is balanced) and got some wool of various types for not too much because they weren't huge hunks of wool and besides that they gave me the student price on the spindle because that's what I'd been told it was when it turned out not to be. But I like it. It's served me well, and I'm actually almost out of wool already, and that wasn't even a month ago. Yeah, I liked it. It's actually kind of addictive, and after a bit you can spin while doing almost anything else. You know, if you need your hands, then you run into a problem, but's great!

Then the best part of the day. I was sitting there spinning while some people were headed to War Horse feeling kind of disappointed because that was the one play I wanted to see here (the rest were Broadway plays, really; better to watch them in the States) (and okay, I would have been majorly upset if we hadn't seen some Shakespeare plays, but I got 3 of those in!) (I'd actually wanted to see it since before I even knew I was going on the program after watching a video about the puppet they made for it) when Karen came up to me and said “Hey, you coming?” Huh? “Don't you remember you paid for this in September?” I probably didn't shut up the rest of the way there from excitement. (Remember how the NH museum said I have a bad memory? Yeah, it just confirmed something I already knew.) And let me tell you, so very worth every pound.

The play started with a gentleman coming in and just standing while some birds flew; he started singing later as another military man walked in and sat sketching a bit. Then came a young foal puppet—he had two people for the front legs, two for the back, and one for the head. They were basically part of the puppet; I guess you could say they were the horse. The foal had stiff, unjointed legs which worked well for getting the jerky-legged young foal movement. He was alone on stage for a while, then rounded up and sold at auction after two brothers had a betting battle over him—the brother who won was just drunk and stubborn and held a grudge against the other brother (who, it was later revealed, thought less of the first brother because he hadn't gone to war while conveniently forgetting that someone had to stay and run the family farm, which the brother who liked drinking left later but before the play started to get his own farm) when he'd been at the fair to buy a cow. And it was doubly hard for everyone to understand when the foal was a hunter/workhorse mix who, because of his hunter blood, wouldn't be much good for farming purposes. His wife was furious but decided that the only way to make a profit was to raise him and then sell him, and turned his care over to her son. Which is a bad idea with an animal you want to sell, because of course the boy developed an attachment. He named the foal Joey and taught him to come at a whistle, a few other tricks, and rear when he said (I think) “Way up!” And he reared at the back of the stage and suddenly the full grown horse was standing there, moving out from the shadows of backstage as the young foal puppet dissolved. (Someone said it basically split in half, but I missed it, being focused on this new huge animal.) The grown Joey was impressive. He's basically a wicker construction, but the working of the horse is almost all interior—two inside working legs and breath and tail, and the one on the head. I think the one standing outside working the head also worked the ears, which moved individually. With all of this, he moved almost just like a real horse, and sometimes watching the play I could believe that he was alive. Not real, perhaps; he had too little hair to be real, but definitely alive.

The boy—Albert, I think—was of course fond of his horse. He raced him across fields and jumped fences with him, which caught the attention of the military gent from the beginning who began sketching the pair, and of Albert's father's brother and son, who became rather covetous. So they got Albert's father drunk and bet him that he couldn't get Joey to plow in a week, 32 guineas (the price originally paid for Joey which was the most that year by far) against Joey himself. Albert's father stumbled home drunk and tried to put a collar on Joey who reacted...strongly...and Albert and his mother rushed out to see the commotion, whereupon Albert was told to teach Joey to plow or he'd lose his horse, so he said he'd teach him and if they won the bet, his father had to promise to never sell Joey. He did teach him, too, because Joey trusted him—it only took a day or so each to get him used to the collar and being directed by the long leads, but the week passed and the bet time came without his actually having been able to move the plow. Of course, it being a play, the plow was pulled the required distance among much cheering and disbelief and Joey astonished them all. (The plow had fabric on the front that it pulled to make a furrow.) At this point, the bells rang and WWI was begun. The next scene saw Albert's cousin joining the war, given a knife for luck which had seen his father and his grandfather through their wars, and Albert's father hearing that 100 (pounds? Guineas? Whichever is more, I think) being offered for a good officer's horse. And shortly thereafter, Joey was on stage and already switched hands before Albert ever showed up to protest. When he couldn't get his horse back, he tried to enlist but was only 15. The officer—the same one who'd been sketching—promised that he'd take good care of Joey and bring him back; after all, this war would only last perhaps a week. He also promised to show him the sketches he'd made.

Joey entered the war service and was introduced to Topthorn, the other full horse-puppet on stage (He was black, Joey was a bright chestnut) and had a quick fight with him to establish pecking order. The first charge began—Joey and Topthorne with riders, the other cavalry being represented by horse puppets that were just heads and backs resting on one person with officers who were heads and torsos mounted on them and held by another on the side charging into a flash of cannon fire—and Joey's officer was shot from his back by either a piece of shrapnel or a bomb, a huge piece of wicked-looking metal coming from across the stage through flashing light and the captain fell backwards, lifted and carried backwards and laid down by stagehands. Around them, the others also fell one by one, leaving the stage littered with bodies as the stagehands laid down to join the dead. The halves of horses and humans that had almost been comical before suddenly became grotesque reminders of the shattered bodies of war. And among all this came Christmas at Albert's home, where he received a bicycle from his parents (which he was unenthusiastic about, seeing it as an inadequate replacement for Joey, which disappointed his mother and caused his father's temper to boil over) and a package from the front which he received eagerly, and then read the news of the officer's death which came with the sketchbook with Joey's picture. He was devastated by the news and his mother went to get something to cheer him up, only re-arriving after he'd taken the sketch of Joey and ridden off on his bicycle.

The next scene was of Albert's cousin being told to ride Joey (He belonged to your family, right? *moment of tension for the cousin*) and they rode into war, met with machine gun fire, the stage went black, and cut for intermission. Cruel, cruel people who leave me hanging at a scene like that.

When intermission was over, Albert had joined the war and been shuffled from the unit he was trying to join to the infantry, where he told the (colonel?) in charge (whose every sentence was interspersed liberally with “effin'”) that he was looking for his horse, showed him the sketch, and was mocked for it (“Do I look like a horseman? Do I look like an equine enthusiast?” with his favorite word thrown in) and they were told to grab a shovel. They laughed. And were sent packing for the shovels with all due speed.

Meanwhile, Joey and Topthorn, with riders, had been captured by the Germans, the leader of whom was very distraught at the need to go to the battleground and put the poor horses, caught by and hanging from the barbed wire, out of their misery and angry with the English for making the horses ride into this. His second in command was, well, he was one of the people who enjoyed war. He was bloodthirsty, suspicious, overeager to attack, and in the end killed Albert's cousin who was just trying to keep the knife his father had given him. With the boy's own knife. The officer who had ridden Topthorn was taken prisoner, and then they were going to take the horses back to the front (which the first German officer was upset about) when the ambulance showed up, pulled by the two other full horse puppets. If you can call them horses. The skeleton of these puppets showed through starkly, accentuated by more wood to make a spine jutting out from their backs, and instead of a firm mesh coating their sides, they had ghastly white tattered fabric around their stomachs, obviously dead on their feet. The ambulance was obviously in desperate need of the two fresh horses to pull it. The officer (who had taken an instant liking to Topthorn) tried to put a collar on him to save him from the front but Topthorn was skittish and wouldn't accept it (which the officer both admired and was sorry for—the Germans must be crazy to want such horses to be reduced to wearing a collar), when Joey approached cautiously. “You've done this before? It must be the English who are crazy!” On seeing his example, Topthorn allowed himself to be collared and the ambulance was pulled away.

Albert's company was in the war zone and he and a friend got separated.  Albert heard a horse and almost went to it when his friend, Davy, I think, pulled him back and Albert told him about his horse, even showed him the sketch.  Davy laughed at him for going all this way for a horse, and told him about his girl back home.  Albert asked to see a picture, looked at it, and said "Well, at least Joey is supposed to look like a horse!"

When the officer and two horses got to the hospital, the officers were dead and the hospital a wreck, so the officer decided to take one of their uniforms and pretend he was a hospital orderly and stay there with the horses.  Which really worked rather well for a while; the horses got to sit and do little, the officer made friends with a little girl who liked the horses and her mother which was difficult at first since they were French and the lady didn't trust him at all.  But then the other officer, the one who had stabbed Albert's cousin, came along with a huge gun carriage and the skeletal horses, one of which died there, and he commandeered the two horses again, taking the officer with him.  The last skeletal horse died on the way and Topthorn wasn't doing well, either.

Meanwhile, Albert's company was following a gun carriage and ran across a dead horse by the side of the road.  Albert noticed it was still slightly alive and had to kill it, in front of a little French girl who was looking for her horse and she cried, and Albert gave up, deciding that Joey was already dead.  At this point, they were attacked by gas and Albert didn't put his mask on, and Davy pulled him out and to the hospital.

Topthorn died, there was a face-off between several of the Germans who were arguing about the war--Topthorn's German officer, who had wanted to take him home after the war, was angry with the fanatic officer because he'd worked the beautiful horses too hard, he ended up shot, and then a bomb came and killed most of them, but Joey was cut free and he ran off in a panic and got tangled in some barbed wire in No-Man's-Land.  The German and English trenches on either side were surprised to see a horse, white-flagged each other and got out to rescue him.  The English side won the horse in a coin toss and took him to the hospital.  The officer in the trench was Albert's first officer, actually.

The trench officer took Joey to the hospital and was asking if they could save him, because the men had decided he was a miracle horse.  Meanwhile, Albert was just across the stage.  He had been blinded by the gas but wasn't responding to anything, encouragement or otherwise because he was depressed.  The doctor looking at Joey decided he was infected and couldn't be helped, mostly because there would be no one to watch him during recovery which he needed, and pulled out a gun to shoot him.  His gun was empty, so they started reloading it and then an officer got upset at the delay and pulled out his gun.  Albert was talking about Joey and whistled the whistle that called him.  Joey perked up and started moving as he could, Albert heard the horse and his response and went wild, and the trench officer, connecting it at last, pushed the gun away from Joey the instant it went off.

You can imagine the reunion that followed, and the play ended with Albert's mother and father at their farm, his mother looking back wondering at the man who had turned into their lane, and both of them dropped their loads in surprise to see Albert and Joey riding up the road to their home.