A Walk in the Woods Review - No Laughing Matter

Playwright Lee Blessing’s brilliant and wryly humorous play proves yet again how a great script and talented actors can create a memorable and thought-provoking evening in the theater. Winner of the prestigious American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award, A WALK IN THE WOODS was also nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. Even though the play is set in Switzerland during the Cold War, the production about two arms negotiators who attempt to develop a treaty between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. has a timeless quality. Despite being set nearly 50 years ago, today’s nuclear arms struggles with North Korea and Iran highlight the play’s contemporary importance.

 

David Nevell and Tony Abatemarco - Photo by Tracey Roman

Negotiator John Honeyman (David Nevell) is on his first important mission for the U.S. government. He is an eager idealist who wants an arms treaty in place so badly that he can taste it. He has not factored in his U.S.S.R. counterpart Andrey Botvinnik (Tony Abatemarco), a clever, experienced, and cynical man who can derail even the most serious negotiations with charm and humor. The stilted and priggish Honeyman is thrown an immediate curve ball when Botvinnik takes him for a walk in the Swiss woods so that the two of them can become buddies.

 

Tony Abatemarco and David Nevell - Photo by Tracey Roman

Thereafter, the two men engage in a duel of wits. To Honeyman’s escalating frustration, Botvinnik seems more interested in the color of Honeyman’s tie and the make of his suit than in the petty details of the treaty. To the audience’s delight, the two endlessly spar, with Botvinnik’s clever repartee overtaking Honeyman’s rigidity, formality, and insistence on sitting at a table rather than reclining on a log in the forest. Words become the weapon of choice in this mini-war. Author Blessing has an exquisite understanding of how words can be used to make love or war (and anything in between). How the most effective weapons don’t require bullets or a trigger.

 

David Nevell and Tony Abatemarco - Photo by Tracey Roman

Career Soviet diplomat Botvinnik finds it extraordinarily exciting and telling that man has the potential to kill himself and everyone else and may not really be attracted to peace: “If mankind hated war, there would be millions of us negotiators and only two soldiers.” Clearly, the opposite has been true for thousands of years. The crafty Botvinnik seems to be looking for fun and diversion instead of solutions to monumental problems. You might wonder about the secret of Botvinnik’s longevity as a Soviet negotiator: “My leaders respect my opinion because I keep it to myself.”

 

Tony Abatemarco and David Nevell - Photo by Tracey Roman

Director John Henry Davis helms this production with perfect pace and intensity. Uber-talented Abatemarco and Nevell excel in their roles as negotiators who effortlessly create the appearance of accord while perhaps just mouthing the phrases the public expects. Nuclear warfare is a very serious topic, and they manage to keep the audience involved and chuckling at the same time. Christopher Scott Murillo’s set is simple and effective. Occasional scattered autumn leaves and spring flower petals hint at the changing seasons with subtlety. This is a play of ideas and thought, and Murillo carefully avoids detracting from the underlying intellectual foundation. Donna Ruzika’s lighting, Jeff Plounas’s sound, and the entire production team help keep the play on track. 

 

A WALK IN THE WOODS runs through May 22, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The International City Theatre is located at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach, CA 90802. Tickets are $47 (Thursdays and Fridays) and $49 (Saturdays and Sundays). For information and reservations, call 562-436-4610 or go online at www.InternationalCityTheatre.org.

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