"A Walk in the Woods”
Stamford Theatre Works, 200 Strawberry Hill Ave., Stamford
“A Walk in the Woods” has been around so long and performed so frequently that it has become something of a classic. Part of the charm, for theaters and directors, is that it is an easily-mounted two-character play, with success depending on the quality of direction and performance.
One would think that the theme would be dated, dealing, as it does, with talks between Soviet and American diplomats during the Cold War (a period of history that is now ancient history). Not so. The questions of national self-interests, armaments races, and the jockeying for power in the global arena are as timely as ever.
This time around, Stamford Theatre Works gets its moment in the sun and comes through with a very satisfying production of Lee Blessing’s drama under Patricia R. Floyd’s direction. The story takes place at a conference complex of the Geneva Convention--unfolding over a single year, with each scene set in each of the four seasons. Richard Ellis’s simple set---adorned appropriately for each season with leaves, frost, or flowers—serves the purpose adequately.
Two diplomats, the Russian Andrey Botvinnik (Brian M. McKeon) and the American John Honeyman (Wiley Moore) escape the endless (and fruitless) negotiations of both teams for a quiet amble in the Swiss woods. It is actually the parklike grounds surroundings the buildings. Botvinnik is the definitive Soviet diplomat—evasive, clever, but exuding a boyish charm. He constantly tries to introduce personal notes and other distractions into their exchange. Honeyman, on the other hand, is all business, doggedly working to bring Botvinnik back to the real matter at hand. Botvinnik, the older man, has been become cynical through the years of attempted negotiations, while the younger Honeyman, new to the game, wears his idealism like a shiny badge on his chest.
Over the four seasons, their “walks in the woods” are like ping-pong games, as they bat the lines back and forth. With Floyd’s tight direction, the two actors are in perfect sync, never missing a beat. McKeon’s Russian, with his touch of an accent, provides fine contrast to Moore’s upright, earnest John Honeyman. Each man gives a polished performance in his own right, but it is the teamwork which is most impressive.
Along the way, Blessing manages to make his points about international diplomacy—the reasons why both nations do not really want to reach a settlement. As long as they are in negotiation, the public images of the two countries remain positive and they can continue in the arms race. The two diplomats, very human as Blessing has created them, are merely pawns in the game.
-- Irene Backalenick
Nov. 2, 2005