“Please. Anything but Formal”: An Inside Look at International Diplomacy in Falcon Theatre’s “A Walk in the Woods”

I left the theatre feeling as though there was the possibility of hope in the world, even amongst all the craziness and disappointments life throws at us.  This is a good thing and sorely needed.

Review by Alan Jozwiak

“Formality allows many things, but it does not allow friendship.”

Formality, friendship, and frivolity are just some of the themes explored in A Walk in the Woods, the Lee Blessing play about two nuclear arms negotiators working on an arms limitation agreement. A Walk in the Woods is currently being staged by Falcon Theatre.

A Walk in the Woods is set during the final years of the Cold War where veteran Soviet diplomat Andrey Botvinnik (Jay Dallas Benson) and his recently appointed U.S. counterpart John Honeyman (Ryan J. Poole) regularly walk in the woods above Geneva, Switzerland to get away from the negotiating table and prying reporters.

Ted Weil, Falcon Theatre’s Artistic Director and director of A Walk in the Woods, wisely reduced the visual elements in his set so as to allow the audience’s attention to focus solely on the actors.  Apart from a park bench, there are only a few fallen leaves, slats of boards painted green to stand in for trees, and part of a bridge peeking out from offstage.  This approach allows for minimal distractions, appreciated because the play is full of ideas and pithy saying that could be easily overlooked if there were onstage distractions. 

Jay Dallas Benson does a great job playing Andrey Botvinnik.  Benson captures the charm and charisma of the senior Soviet diplomat.  Benson is able to draw out the frivolity and humor from this character without sacrificing his essential seriousness as an expert negotiator.  His speech on how the U.S. and Soviet Union are essentially identical in character is just as compelling as his forays into whimsy as he tries to be frivolous for his U.S. counterpart.

Ryan J. Poole is the equal of Benson. The regret and disappointment Honeyman experiences after finding out about a rejected arms reduction proposal nicely showcases Poole’s emotional range.  Honeyman is a difficult character to play because his character is so uptight and professional. It is not until the end of the play where we get to see Honeyman’s character experience some real feeling and Poole makes the most of those scenes to express his characters frustration and regret.

There is good chemistry between Benson and Poole, which is essential for a two-person play.  As the two actors progress during the run of the show their chemistry will really kick into high gear once they get really used to working off of one another.

I was initially hesitant to see this play because it was written in 1988 and deals with a political landscape that no longer exist.  Would it have any resonance for today?  The answer is a resounding yes.  Blessing has created a play that does not focus on the particulars of arms negotiation, but on the people working on such negotiations.  Those relationships and the things the negotiators have to deal with from their respective governments are still valid today and Falcon Theatre highlights those relationships beautifully.

Towards the end of the play, Honeyman tells Botvinnik “Friends share hope!”  I think this can be extended to the audience as well.  The audience shares in the hope these two men have generated. 

A Walk in the Woods runs May 20 to June 4, with performances running Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 pm at the Falcon Theatre, located on 636 Monmouth Street Newport, KY 41071. Tickets can be purchased by going to the Falcon Theatre website: https://falcontheater.net/current-season/walk-in-the-woods/.

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