Audiences arrive at the theater wishing to be transported. For the cast and crew of "War Horse" struggling to cope with this week's Hurricane Sandy, the question of transport has become much more literal. Like most actors without a TV series or a big movie career, the "War Horse" performers make modest livings, which in New York means you tend to live in Brooklyn or Queens. With the subway out-of-service this week, the group had all of Tuesday, when LCT performances and those around the entire city were cancelled, to strategize their trek in to work for Wednesday's matinee.
Sitting around the Beaumont's backstage mini-canteen a half-hour before that curtain, the actors started to spill how they'd fared. "Most people walked or biked to work," said Elliot Villar, who lives in Queens. "I walked across the 59th Street Bridge, and from there I had a great vantage point towards Manhattan. I could see how full the streets were with traffic: every artery was clogged." He added: "Google Maps said that my trip was 4.2 miles. It took me an hour and 20 minutes."
Ben Klein, the production's associate director, lives in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens. "I biked in, across the Queensboro Bridge," which for non-New Yorkers is another name for the 59th Street Bridge. Klein added: "It took me about 15 minutes. I was surprised it didn't take longer."
Tommy Schrider is another Queensian. Like many New Yorkers right now, he reached out to friends and colleagues to see if he could help them cope with Sandy's aftermath. He picked up a few "War Horse" cast members on his drive into Manhattan. "I got as far as the Queensboro," he said. "But the traffic there was at an absolute standstill" - a condition that looks like it's going to be endemic around New York this week until the subway resumes. "So we found a place to park in Long Island City" - a neighborhood in Queens - "and walked the rest of the way."
Some of the bicycling Brooklynite cast members I talked to said their journey had been eased on Wednesday by the fact that traffic is less than normal in electrically challenged downtown-Manhattan areas like Chinatown and SoHo. But they concurred with colleagues that midtown and the Upper West Side are clogged. Even for actors whose carfare is being re-imbursed, which is the case at LCT, the congestion means that many actors are choosing to forego taxis and walk or bike to and from the theater, even on two-show days like Wednesdays.
And I can't say that this choice surprises me. Not only are the "War Horse" actors are an appallingly fit bunch, they are asked to do battle eight times a week onstage. Their military experience, however make-believe, is translating to the challenges of life in a place which, in matters of transportation if not enemy attack, approximates a city under siege.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.