In 1988, Lee Blessing’s play A Walk in the Woods premiered on Broadway. That same year, the United States held a summit meeting with the Soviet Union to discuss arms control, nuclear and space talks, human rights, and other vital issues. Ultimately, nuclear war was averted.
Blessing’s work, which reflected the period, had much to say about the power of intelligent discourse, respectful disagreement, and gentle persuasion. Thirty years later, his message continues to resonate. Given our volatile relationship with Russia and North Korea, the themes are even more potent. In fact, they are crucial if our civilized democracy is to endure.
Currently, the Barrow Group has remounted this two-hander in an uncompelling, but perfectly adequate production.
Martin Van Treuren stars as Andrey Botvinnik, a Russian arms negotiator. K. Lorrel Manning plays opposite him as John Honeyman, an American arms negotiator. The pair discusses philosophical differences and seeks personal commonalities far from the media frenzy of peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland.
Edward T. Morris has placed them in a serene setting with his zen inspired scenic design. This, along with the skilled execution of Blessing’s prose should make the work take wing.
Van Treuren and Manning appear to be competent actors but here, they are miscast. Both reflect an informal air that one would not equate to international diplomacy. In addition, they often seem to be grabbing for lines and approach the piece with unevenness and uncertainty. For an intimate play like this to fully ignite, magnetism, razor-sharp acuity, and exceptional dynamism are required from its cast.
Still, the two manage to deliver Blessing’s vital message which speaks to our anger-filled moment and continued hypocrisy. Deep contemplation has been sacrificed for reaction and outrage. Instead of speaking to one another, we talk at each other- both online and in our lives. While some might pass off Blessing’s notion to simply communicate and listen to one other as elementary or generic, we continue to flunk the lesson. To quote the late folk songwriter Pete Seeger, “When will they (we) ever learn?”
The Barrow Group presents A Walk in the Woods. Now through April 15th. 312 West 36th Street between 8th and 9th. 3rd Floor NYC. For tickets and information visit, The Barrow Group.