LA Review: 'Farm Boy'

at the Matrix Theatre

Reviewed by Neal Weaver

July 31, 2012


Photo by David Sprague
"Farm Boy," adapted by Daniel Buckroyd from the novel by Michael Morpurgo, may be a sequel to "War Horse," but the two shows could hardly be more different. While "War Horse" is a lavish spectacle involving enormous resources, a huge cast, terrific puppets, and special effects, "Farm Boy" is small scale (just two characters), intimate, and tender, relying largely on the spoken word and good old-fashioned storytelling.

Grandfather (Lawrence Pressman) is the son of the late Albert, the hero of "War Horse," who raised and trained the great-hearted steed Joey and followed him off to World War I. Despite the odds, both Albert and Joey survived the war and came home to the farm, where the old man grew up and has lived all his life. But now he's alone. Albert, Joey, and his mate, Zoey, have all died, and so has Grandma. Grandfather is hopeful that his grandson (Simon Lees) will join him in running the farm.

When the boy comes for a visit, his grandfather regales him with the adventures of Albert and Joey in the Great War. He also confesses his long-kept secret: He's never learned to read. He persuades the boy to stay with him long enough to teach him to read and write. Then he writes a story of his own: the epic tale of the great plowing contest, which pitted Joey and Zoey against a huge and powerful Fordson tractor, first built by Henry Ford in 1916.

Morpurgo's tale is deeply infused with love and knowledge of farm life and the rural English countryside, which director David Fofi brings to the stage with eloquent simplicity. Pressman lends his gravitas to the role of the grandfather, but the actor tempers it when Grandfather expresses affection for the boy and displays a sly sense of humor and an irrepressible zest for telling stories. Lees emphasizes the grandson's boyishness, his love for driving the powerful old tractor, and his self-effacing willingness to sit at the old man's feet and listen. Unfortunately, Lees occasionally lapses into inaudibility, something that's doubly frustrating given the character's strong rural dialect.

The handsomely impressionistic set by Aaron Glazer features a large, rusty, seemingly authentic Fordson tractor, which adds another level of reality to the story.

Presented by Katrina Wood and Barney D Neeley at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A. July 28–Aug. 26. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (Additional performance Sat., Aug. 25, 3 p.m.) (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com.
 

 
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