Los Angeles Theater Review: A WALK IN THE WOODS (Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood)

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by Tony Frankel on August 13, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles


You want to watch a movie, so you go to the video store to rent one, only the selection is so vast that you just close your eyes and pick. Take a friend with you and suddenly the choices become limited because they have already seen what you want to see. Try picking out one movie for four friends and the negotiations become such a source of contention that you end up pleasing nobody (or just end up going out to dinner instead).

Now, imagine the same experience, replacing a movie with nuclear weapons. If picking out a movie is exasperating, can you imagine the contentious negotiations regarding nuclear disarmament? Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods at the Lonny Chapman Theatre introduces us to two envoys (American and Russian) who are given the frustrating and often thankless task of bargaining on behalf of their country’s leaders. It’s a wonderful, well-constructed play, made all the more astounding by the fact that it was written during the Cold War. Mr. Blessing avoids didacticism while remaining compelling and funny.

Andrey Botvinnik (Larry Eisenberg), a career Soviet diplomat, knows that they are pawns in this atom-exploding chess game; he understands that time may be the best friend to a negotiator, as people need to thaw their frozen beliefs before giving in to a new way of thinking. The determined American negotiator John Honeyman (Fox Carney) doesn’t understand why a treaty can’t be ratified, signed, and over with; after all, this is the end of the world they’re talking about. Not so easy. This is why Andrey wants to discuss in the woods instead of some windowless room — it is a place of refuge that reminds him of what they are trying to save.

Mr. Eisenberg is perfection — he plays the Russian as if he were a friendly baker selling bread, belying the cynical, tired man he has become. His reactions are masterful; every gesture, every facial expression is organic, surprising, and fresh. Less successful is Mr. Carney; he certainly looks the part of the flustered bureaucrat, supplying the requisite toughness, but he heaves and sighs in a manner more appropriate to presentational comedy. Mr. Carney does not exude the charm and youthful earnestness that this role requires. His reactions seem pre-determined or incongruous; when Andrey comes from behind and lays a hand on John’s shoulder, Mr. Carney does not react, as if he knows the hand is coming. Instead of the upstart, determined negotiator, he comes off like a rankled butler, something like the animated Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast.

Director Richard Alan Woody picks up the slack in this Group Rep production with a good pace and a clear understanding of the piece. The design aspects are minimal (it’s a shame that the haunting piano music was not credited).

Some may say that the Cold War has ended, but has it?  It was an illusory war with an illusory outcome: we’ve reduced nuclear arms, yet still retain enough to blow up the world. A Walk in the Woods remains a timeless, thoughtful reminder that nuclear bombs don’t lead to destruction – the way we relate to each other does.

photo by Sherry Netherland

A Walk in the Woods
The Group Rep
Lonny Chapman Theatre
10900 Burbank Blvd. in North Hollywood
ends on September 4, 2010
for tickets, call 818.700-4878 or visit Group Rep

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