Falcon Theatre’s War of Words While Walking in the Woods
Review of “Walk in the Woods” by Doug Iden
Away from the glare and international pressure of a Cold War arms negotiation in the 1980’s, the lead diplomats for the Russians and Americans take A Walk in the Woods as an alternative strategy. This intriguing Falcon Theater production shows the two negotiators with very different personalities and opposing world views: Anthony (Andre) Botvinnik (Jay Dallas Benson) is a wily veteran of the “talk wars” and would prefer a more personal, friendly approach while American John Honeyman (Ryan Poole) is a somewhat inexperienced idealist who wants to “do the right thing” through a more formal process.
The two act, four scene play shows the evolution of the talks and the interpersonal relationships between the two men. We see four different “walks” through two major negotiations over a year which continually seem to be stymied in a quagmire.
The success of this two-person play with no action and little surface tension is totally reliant upon the skill of the actors and the dialogue of the playwright Lee Blessing. The dialogue is a “blessing” and both Benson and Poole are very convincing as the wary but conscientious opponents who, grudgingly, begin to appreciate the other’s views and internal problems with their respective political leaders. Andre could commit career suicide if he does not follow the party line.
Benson plays Andre as a very affable, sometimes seemingly diffident extravert who often uses the tactic of changing the subject to the consternation and frustration of the American. He has a million ways of politely but convincingly saying “no”. Andre is the type of person who would be outstanding at a dinner party but is he serious and trustworthy? Benson also maintains an effective Russian accent throughout. Poole’s character is, initially, flummoxed at Andre’s tactics but soon catches up with Andre’s ploy and begins to counter it effectively. Andre continually tries to develop a friendship which John rejects as unprofessional and counter-productive to the talks. Obsequious charm vs stiff priggishness.
The heart of the play is the developing relationship (friendship?) between the combatants and both actors excel at the potential transformation.
The playwright also makes some significant points about the ongoing conflicts between Russia and the US. Andre, in his defense of the intransigent dogma of his superiors, tries to explain to John that the two nations have very different personalities, histories and world views. America, because of two oceans and friendly neighbors, was able to dominate the country without competition while Russia’s conquest was very competitive from all directions. All governments are irrational with entrenched cultural and political interests and they are all afraid to be defeated and “lose face”, Andre asserts.
In unskilled hands, this play, with tons of exposition, could be boring but Director Ted Weil and the actors have created an intriguing and provocative production complete with very thought-provoking ideas. It’s the type of play that stays with you after leaving the theater. Despite the underlying seriousness of the play, there is considerable humor when Andre needles John and is amused at the American’s reaction.
Weil also designed the simple but effective set design with a bench (which almost becomes a character itself) with some dark and light striping in the background representing the trees in the pristine environment. Since this was a replacement play, it is pure coincidence but the story is poignantly reminiscent of the current conflict in Ukraine and Weil (Artistic Director) announced that proceeds would be sent to aid the current conflict
So, add a shot of vodka to your apple pie and steer your missile to the Falcon Theater for the remainder of A Walk In the Woods running through June 4. The Falcon has also announced their upcoming season which you can preview HERE at their website, where you can also get tickets for A Walk in the Woods.