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Theater Review: “A Walk in the Woods”

“A Walk in the Woods” plays through June 30, 2019 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.
Photo credit:
Aaron Rumley

You and I will probably never know what goes on at a high-level negotiating table where the topic is the reduction of nuclear arms. But in Lee Blessing’s delightful “A Walk in the Woods” (playing through June 30 at North Coast Repertory Theatre) we learn that frivolousness is important as a negotiating strategy.

Inspired by a real event during U.S.-Russia negotiations in 1982, Blessing imagines several months of chats in the woods above Geneva between American John Honeyman (J. Todd Adams) and Russian Andrey Botvinnik (David Ellenstein).

Two more opposite personalities would be difficult to find. Honeyman, the newcomer to this game, is stiff, starchy and formal. Andrey, the old Russian hand, is much more casual and personable, interpreted as “not serious” by Honeyman.

Andrey tries to loosen up his counterpart with a comment about his predecessor McIntyre, who according to Andrey “always sat straight up. For two years he never relaxed. He looked like a dog waiting for his supper.”

Andrey doesn’t exactly sprawl, but he relaxes onto the bench, where he hopes to engage his counterpart in “frivolous” talk, say about Mickey Mouse, cowboys, or maybe how to make a banjo.

Honeyman doesn’t know what to make of this. After all, when these talks started years ago, only hundreds of nuclear warheads existed. Now there are more than 50,000.

Andrey, who has been at this negotiations business for years, has developed no little cynicism about their importance. “Even if we do agree,” he asks, “do you think it will matter?”

Andrey has been party to more than one “agreement” that was rejected by the politicians in power. Honeyman, on the other hand, has never failed.

Director Richard Baird uses a light touch, allowing Blessing’s brilliant script and these fine actors to get the points across unhampered.

And that they do. Ellenstein’s Andrey brings the humor borne of a recognition that no real reduction is wanted by either side. Adams’ Honeyman, on the other hand, thinks that a real result is expected and does not appreciate Andrey’s insistence on frivolity. Yet, a kind of friendship is established.

Marty Burnett’s woodsy set, Matt Novotny’s lovely lighting and Aaron Rumley’s sound design help set the mood for this amusing if not productive meeting.

“A Walk in the Woods” is one of the best plays out there, and North Coast Rep brings all the humor and gravitas it requires. You’ll leave amused and thoughtful, and probably wanting to discuss the ideas with friends over coffee.

A play can do no better than that.

The details

“A Walk in the Woods” plays through June 30, 2019 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or northcoastrep.org