A movement piece with puppets, James Ortiz’s “The Woodsman” is an elemental reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s world of Oz. The spectacle is handmade, infused with breath and light.That would be a Kalidah, shown above.
This is the Tin Man’s back story: how a regular human named Nick Chopper (Mr. Ortiz) came to be a rusting pile of metal in need of a heart. The story, laid out in a spare spoken prologue in this largely wordless piece, involves the witch who rules this part of Oz. Her only apparent vulnerability is an aversion to sunlight.
When Nick falls in love with her barefoot slave Nimmee (an appealing Eliza Simpson), the witch schemes to prevent their union. She enchants an ax to cut off chunks of Nick, one by one. With prosthetics to replace them, soon he is wholly made of tin. Without a heart, he can no longer love. . . .
Mr. Ortiz’s puppets are fanciful and gorgeous: the witch, with her pinched face and dowager’s gown; the crows, whose wings in motion are all taffeta susurration; a fabulous golden-eyed monster, a cross between a tiger and a bear. (Oh, my.)
Alas, Collins-Hughes concludes, “With so many pieces well in place, it seems churlish to complain, but one significant flaw holds ‘The Woodsman’ back: The storytelling isn’t clear enough. The visual language can be muddled, and important bits are sometimes rushed.” She obviously hopes a future staging will improve.