Playwright Lee Blessing’s deft 1988 two-hander is, unfortunately, no less topical today. Two arms negotiators meet for treaty negotiation in bucolic Switzerland represented by the effectively stylized woods of Scenic Designer Edward T. Morris. John Honeyman (K. Lorrel Manning), representing The United States, is new to the game at an international level having proved himself in other capacities. He’s serious, enthusiastic, optimistic and naïve. Andrew Botvinnik (Martin Van Treuren), on the other hand, is a jaded career diplomat long in the position he now holds for Russia.
Martin Van Treuren and K. Lorrel Manning
The play, set in 1983, was undoubtedly inspired by 1982 negotiations between the two countries when press described a “walk in the woods” resulting in a blueprint later rejected by both sides.
It’s Botvinnik who suggests getting away from the conference table in order “to talk man to man.” The two men have done copious research on one another. Our rep repeatedly attempts to get back to the subject at hand, while theirs is a master at serendipitous conversation ours calls “frivolous.”. Botvinnik ostensibly wants to make friends, something Honeyman feels at worst unprofessional and at best ill timed. The Russian observes with disappointment that his peer is very formal, a state he deems “…anger with its hair combed…”
When Honeyman attempts to leave the forest, Botvinnik points out that waiting reporters would interpret it poorly. In fact, as they meet month after month… after month, awareness of public impression never dissipates. The earnest American is drawn into parentheses of safe i.e. irrelevant waters with idle talk about flowers, clothing, baseball, country music…but remains perpetually frustrated. “Even if we agree,” his counterpart resignedly shrugs, “do you think it will matter?”
K. Lorrel Manning and Martin Van Treuren
Russia seems to be stalling until after our election. Botvinnik comments that his country is a crab never going in a straight line. Grudging respect is achieved, but a draft is rejected by both sides. Undaunted, Honeyman struggles on while Botvinnik charmingly treads water. A clandestine detente seems to suggest success is in the realm of possibility, but…
Blessing’s two countries are not so different from one another. Without specifics, he credibly satirizes ongoing standoff even offering rather perceptive reasoning. The play is beautifully written, humorous and perceptive.
K. Lorrel Manning’s Honeyman is believably ardent and volatile. Concessions never lose their edge. Somehow, however, the actor only intermittently inhabits the role as if he hasn’t completely formulated the negotiator’s interior life in his own mind.
As the Russian, Martin Van Treuren is a complete delight. We practically see a twinkle in the diplomat’s eyes as he dances around his opposite number with both benevolence and well honed ability to make the best of things. Gestures are in character, manner elegant, timing impeccable.
Director Donna Jean Fogel handles her scenario with utter finesse. Movement always comes from somewhere. While Honeyman shifts heavily, Botvinnik is a physically lighter spirit. The men look at one another, away and inside with veracity. Pacing is excellent.
Photos by Edward T. Morris
Opening: K. Lorrel Manning and Martin Van Treuren
The Barrow Group presents
A Walk in the Woods by Lee Blessing
Directed by Donna Jean Fogel
The Barrow Group
312 West 36 Street 3rd floor
Through April 15, 2018