It is a tribute to the craft of the Hotel Modern and Arthur Sauer and their production of The Great War that I could barely wait to escape the Hopkins Center.
Through the use of live animation, tiny props, tables of sawdust and potting soil on the stage of the Moore Theater, and a mechanism for projecting all of the above onto a screen, the Hotel Modern brought the experience of the battlefield too close for any comfort. While two of the artists openly moved the miniature pieces—sticks, parsley, toy soldiers—into position, a narrator read the words of actual soldiers, written home from the trenches and in one case, a submarine.
It is captivating to watch and difficult to explain. It reminded me of War Horse (the play, not the movie) in which the audience invests themselves more fully than they thought they could , believing that the inanimate objects they are watching are real, breathing beings. Unlike the more passive watching of a movie, one’s imagination is forced into play. Maybe that helps to explain why viewing the death of the projected image of two little boots, representing one complete soldier, is so wrenching.
If the two propmeisters and the narrator bring the sights and words of war, Foley artist and musician Arthur Sauer infuses the experience with the sounds. His music is loud, discordant. Using a variety of tools, he reproduces the sound of rain, and explosions. But the ever-present sound that haunts is that of boots tromping through the trenches, the muck of mud and bodies sucking at each foot that rises and falls.
A note in the program states that these artists visited history classes at Dartmouth while in the Upper Valley. Having not been in a history class for quite some time, I am hoping that the world is finding methods, like this one, to teach history in ways more tangible than the stale list of dates that I learned and forgot.
Harrowing is the word I settled on to describe the hour in the dark of the theatre. Like war.