A Walk in the Woods Review – A Diplomatic Two-Step

Phil Crowley and Nan McNamara in A WALK IN THE WOODS - Photo by Matthew Gilmore

When two arms negotiators were deadlocked in talks in Geneva and decided to take a walk in a peaceful copse nearby, the idea for A WALK IN THE WOODS was born. Playwright Lee Blessing took this intriguing event and wove a brilliant and witty tale of what might have happened between the American and Russian negotiators on this fateful stroll. From a staged reading in 1986, A WALK IN THE WOODS was produced on Broadway in 1988 and was eventually nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. Playwright Lee Blessing’s formidable play has been revived and infused with new life in the Actor’s Co-op 2018 production.

Nan McNamara and Phil Crowley – Photo by Matthew Gilmore

Director Ken Sawyer has taken some liberties with the original script – and so has added layers at the already subtle and fascinating study of two people asked to figure out a way to avoid nuclear proliferation in a world still smarting from World War II and the Berlin Wall. For A WALK IN THE WOODS has made a clever change, first introduced in 2010 in a Vermont production, in the two principals. Russian negotiator Andrey Botvinnik (Phil Crowley) remains a 57-year-old seasoned diplomat with a wry and even cynical view of politics. American negotiator John Honeyman has become Joan Honeyman (Nan McNamara) a female negotiator who remains somewhat naïve about her goals in this world-shaping meeting. The injection of a female into the mix has added some intriguing new dynamics which add immeasurably to the original story.

Nan McNamara – Photo by Matthew Gilmore

This is the back-and-forth between two people with very different world views who must somehow come to a joint conclusion. Botvinnik is a friendly, world-weary man who wants to develop a warm relationship with his counterpart – or so it would seem. Honeyman is a goal-directed younger professional for whom this treaty meeting is career changing – the culmination of her aspirations over the years. Botvinnik’s quiet teasing is sure to meet with thinly veiled outrage by this single-minded woman. As Botvinnik opines, “Formality is anger with well-combed hair.” Leaving the war room for the Swiss woods is a detour which does not meet with her approval. And yet – what to do?

Phil Crowley – Photo by Matthew Gilmore

A WALK IN THE WOODS is riddled with clever, well-considered statements reflecting Blessing’s own views on the matter. Can the impossible actually come to pass? Will these two negotiators formulate a plan to limit arms which will be acceptable to their bosses? Obviously, Botvinnik and Honeyman have very different answers to this question.

Nan McNamara and Phil Crowley – Photo by Matthew Gilmore

Let’s not forget another change which director Ken Sawyer made to the original script. Just imagine both negotiators finally taking off their shoes, rolling up their trousers, and splashing around in a nearby pond. This is another excellent addition which allows actions to overshadow words. All in all, Sawyer and his two talented principals have a handle on their characters which makes them larger than life – but also allows room for fun and a fair share of laughs.

Director Ken Sawyer, Phil Crowley, and Nan McNamara at the Q&A – Photo by Elaine L. Mura

Ellen Lenbergs’ scenic design is brilliant – simple yet appropriate with an artistic flair. Changing seasons are amply displayed, and perspectives vary by simply moving two stationary objects. Nicholas Acciani’s and Matt Ritcher’s lighting and Adam R. Macias’ sound blend perfectly to achieve big set variations with few complications.

SPLASH SELECTION

A WALK IN THE WOODS runs through March 18, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays (additional Saturday matinees on February 17 and February 24 at 2:30 p.m.). The Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre is located at 1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood, CA 90028. Tickets are $30 (seniors, $25; students $20). For information and reservations, call 323-462-8460 or go online.

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