By Lee Blessing
Directed by Nick Bowling
Produced by TimeLine Theatre Company
At Theater Wit, Chicago
Strong performances fuel Cold War drama
TimeLine Theatre, utilizing a space at Theater Wit, once more finds worthy history-oriented plays to mount. Their latest, Lee Blessing’ 1986 A Walk In The Woods is a refreshingly new take on the original work in that the Russian negotiator in this production is a woman which adds spice an another level of dramatic tension to the work.
We meet Anya Botvinnik (the fabulous Janet Ulrich Brooks) a witty but jaded cynical Russian veteran arms negotiator whose many years in Geneva leaves her frustrated by the process. When the Americans send a new diplomat – John Honeymen (David Parks) the battle of wits begins. They both decide that walking in the woods outside Geneva could allow more honesty and glibness than the stuffy table in the confined conference rooms.
Anya is determined to out duel and out maneuver Honeyman as their high-stakes games of trying to prevent the nuclear arms race from sprawling out of control leading to inevitable catastrophic events rests initially in their hands. Reaching common ground for agreement is their shared goal. Anya is evasive, indirect and elusive while Honeyman is direct, blunt, charming and intent. Will the two ever come to any common ground? Anya wants friendship and Honeyman wants an agreement.
Over the course of a year, the two use their walks in the park to debate, maneuver and cajole each other as they form a unique bond since both really want to come to an agreement that their countries will act upon. This smartly written and deftly performed work is filled with humorous dialogue (especially by the antics and comic timing of Brooks) and deeply psychological character traits that engrosses us from the start by the intelligent and nuanced performances by the two top talents.
They raise the level of interest as gamesmanship and political intrigue at the height of the arms race in the 1980’s. They point out that each country has thousands of nuclear warheads and thousands of troops ready to attack each other yet they are but two diplomats dedicated to peace. The two hour drama is pace well as we get to know and appreciate the two as they struggle against frustration, boredom, and indecision from their superiors. Each battle against the highs of eternal hope and the lows of relentless futility of shuttered attempts at arms reduction. The urgency of their task is implied by the horrors of a miscalculation by either country. Trust and implementation is extremely difficult as both negotiators realize that neither country really wants an agreement at this time.
Director Nick Bowling’s decision to cast Janet Ulrich Brooks as the cynical Russian was a brilliant move since Brooks played Anya as a powerful, even dominant personality who early on sets the agenda that David Parks’ Honeyman has to adapt to. The psychological duel for power and command in the hands of two terrific actors makes for a most intriguing evening of theatre. With this work, we get a glimpse into the world high stakes diplomacy where personal relationships often trump over political necessities. This two-hander is a tour de force for David Parks and Janet Ulrich Brooks.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: August 22, 2011
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-975-8150, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $34 – $44, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm,Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through November 20, 2011