Lincoln Center Theater
Backstage Blog

by Brendan Lemon

Oh, They Remembered: The Actors Reminisce

Jan 2, 2013

'Tis The Season

Dec 14, 2012

Zach Is Back (And Others Are, Too)

Nov 29, 2012

A Russian is in the House

Nov 9, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get There

Nov 1, 2012

Downton Abbey Versus War Horse

Oct 19, 2012

In Demand: Hair and Make-Up

Oct 11, 2012

Three Generations Watch the Show

Sep 28, 2012

Ariel's Back at the Beaumont

Sep 18, 2012

War Horse's Closing: What to Feel?

Sep 7, 2012

The Actors Take a Vacation

Aug 27, 2012

Mister Klein is in the House

Aug 7, 2012

Checking in with Sanjit

Jul 28, 2012

The Parade in the Lobby

Jul 19, 2012

Kings of Infinite Space

Jul 2, 2012

Merv Has Something to Crow About

Jun 21, 2012

War Horse Takes the Field

Jun 15, 2012

Sailors go to War Horse

May 30, 2012

Facing a Student Audience

May 16, 2012

The Man Behind War Horse

May 8, 2012

Anniversaries, First Nights, and Andy Murray

Apr 20, 2012

A Bonnie Blue Easter

Apr 9, 2012

Where are the Women?

Mar 29, 2012

Catching up with David Manis

Mar 26, 2012

What People Really Say Backstage

Mar 8, 2012

The Story of Andrew and Albert

Feb 24, 2012

Bellying Up to the Barr

Feb 15, 2012

The Guy with the Goods

Feb 7, 2012

What the New Billy Does Between Shows

Jan 23, 2012

Some Actors Say Goodbye, Others Say Hello!

Jan 12, 2012

Waiting for the Next Wave

Jan 5, 2012

Greetings, Friends!

Dec 21, 2011

Which Way to War Horse?

Dec 5, 2011

What War Horse Actors Line Up For

Nov 18, 2011

Eleven Eleven: For the USO

Nov 14, 2011

What The War Was Really Like

Nov 9, 2011

What They Say in the Returns Line

Oct 26, 2011

The World of Isaac Woofter

Oct 19, 2011

How Elliot Villar Survived His Injury

Oct 11, 2011

WAR HORSE: Reading Suggestions

Sep 28, 2011

Herr Hermann on His German Officer

Sep 22, 2011

September Brings Showers - Of All Kinds

Sep 9, 2011

Richard Crawford Makes Some Thunder

Aug 24, 2011

The Stage Manager Speaks

Aug 15, 2011

"Making War Horse" airs this week on WNET

Aug 8, 2011

Houston is in the House

Jul 28, 2011

WAR HORSE in Summer Attire

Jul 22, 2011

Keeping it Clean with Lynn Bowling

Jul 11, 2011

Ariel Heller Hits the Target

Jun 27, 2011

Alyssa Bresnahan: Life with Mother

Jun 21, 2011

In the Winner's Circle on TONY Night

Jun 13, 2011

Mad About Madeleine

May 27, 2011

Lobby Talk: Audience Members Speak

May 20, 2011

Students are in the House

May 12, 2011

Who Taught the Cast to Fight?

May 2, 2011

The Week After Opening

Apr 22, 2011

WAR HORSE on Opening Night

Apr 15, 2011

Is WAR HORSE Sentimental?

Apr 8, 2011

Helping Out a Buddy

Mar 28, 2011

Song Woman: Mighty Kate

Mar 25, 2011

The First Preview

Mar 17, 2011

Seth Numrich: Boy with a Horse

Mar 7, 2011

What Shall We Call Mr. Millar?

Feb 28, 2011

Can I Bring the Kids?

Feb 18, 2011

New Kids

Feb 10, 2011

Keeping War Horse Moving

Feb 3, 2011

What Happens at Lunchtime

Jan 31, 2011

A Gathering of the Troops

Jan 20, 2011

How WAR HORSE Got Cast

Jan 13, 2011

The Voyage Begins

Jan 10, 2011

What The War Was Really Like

Nov 9, 2011

The First World War, the time frame for "War Horse," figures less prominently in the American consciousness than in the British or European. This may be owing to the fact that the U.S. was officially in the conflict for a year and a half, while those across the Atlantic suffered for four years and four months. The war may also figure less imminently for us because it was fought thousands of miles away; our casualties were proportionately many fewer and the typical American town is nowhere near as likely to have a marker to them as towns in England or France or Germany.

These facts were brought home to me as I read a new book called "The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War," by Peter Englund. The author is a Swedish historian but is better known for his role as permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy; each October, Englund tells the world who has won the Nobel Prize in literature.

Englund draws from the diaries, letters, and journals of twenty individuals, creating a picture of what the war was really like. Although two of these people are American, the overall all impression is the impact of the war on Europeans. The German girl Elfriede Kuhr, for instance, could almost be Sophie, the beloved daughter of "War Horse"'s Hauptman Muller. Some of the insights of Alfred Pollard, a twenty-one-year-old British army infantryman, are reminiscent of the experience of any number of "War Horse" soldiers. Pollard's most striking moment in the book, however, comes in April 1917, as he hurls hand grenades against the enemy. As he rushes after fleeing Germans, he feels "a thrill only comparable to running through the opposition at Rugger to score a try."

Englund's dramatis personae give full voice to a time that was, for them, what Rilke, in his 1910 novel "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge," called "an abyss of horror." But I was surprised, as I read the accumulating details of the twenty people's everyday lives, at how nearly normal the horror becomes. Some of the worst details are reported matter of factly. For Paolo Monelli, a 23-year-old Italian army trooper, the air of battle is filled "with three smells: the bitter odor of explosives, the sweet stench of putrefaction and the sour stink of human excrement."

It is the achievement of Englund's book that we can read such descriptions and find them not disgusting but part of what soldiers considered mundane. Just as we watch the battle scenes in "War Horse," and can find them to be almost comforting: as long as the characters are firing and fleeing, they are still alive, and there is hope.

Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of