A Walk in the Woods, New Century Theatre’s second show of the short summer 2019 season, is the story of two negotiators, talking and talking to try and make progress in the intractable and backstabbing world of arms treaties.
We meet a pair, Andrey Botvinnik, the deeply accented old Russian, who has been arguing for his side for decades. It’s clearly been too long, he’s indifferent, defeated, and seeing the terrible toll these meaningless negotiations are taking.
His adversary, not his friend, is Joan Honeyman. She’s a sensible woman, also been at this a pretty long time, but she had to take over this new role in negotiations after Cutler, who knew Botvinnik well, but also sparred with him over almost everything.
Andrey wants to chat her up, find out her favorite color, just talk. She’s bound and determined to actually negotiate.
More and more deadly weapons are built every year, and despite signing 32 treaties, the USSR and the USA remain locked in a terrible ongoing waste of money war.
Joan has to remind Andrey that she’s not now, nor will she ever be, his friend. They’re negotiators, not diplomats, she insists, and she wants to get back down to negotiation. He just wants to talk.
The pair talk on a bench in the woods. The set is spare, the path changes a bit over the different seasons. This is a play that relies strictly on dialogue. The pair do it masterfully, though I felt that the first act dragged a little bit, but they managed to avoid this in the second act.
Joan Honeyman is frustrated, she’s not as experienced as Andrey, she still thinks that these negotiations between the two nations can create a meaningful treaty. But Andrey insists, it’s really all about pretending that the treaties will help world peace. They don’t actually have any effect. That frosts Joan, she worries what the press will think and coordinates their return, either together or one by one, everything they do here in Geneva will be reported on.
This version of the play differs greatly with Lee Blessing’s original production, in New Haven in 1988, when the US negotiator was a man named John Honeyman. It’s an interesting twist, changing this from two men to a man and a woman, and actress Jaris Hanson does a great job sounding like and acting like a high government official. She’s no-nonsense, and practical, to his whimsical self.
Samuels pulls off a perfect Russian diplomat’s accent, he looks impeccable in the suits, and comported himself just as I’d expect a Russian would. The length of the play and the dialogue that the two actors memorized was quite the job too.
While the first act was unfolding, I thought it might begin to feel a bit claustrophobic with another entire act with just these two adversaries talking. But as emotions began to heat up, and both Andrey and Joan get very emotional and energetic, the whole play comes together.
The lighting was impressive too, using the stark simple set with birch trees and the floor as the only decoration, so the scene-setting with light and bird sounds brought us right out into the woods with the two actors.
A Walk in the Woods, starring Sam Samuels and Jaris Hanson. West End space at Eastworks in Easthampton. August 2, 3 and 4. Curtain is at 7:30 PM. For more information visit www.newcenturytheatre.org