“A Walk in the Woods,” presented by Reston Community Players, is a stunning show on so many levels. With beautiful language that paints pictures, intelligent and layered performances, an evocative set design, pitch-perfect costumes, and a very thoughtful script, I didn’t want to leave those woods in Switzerland.
It’s glorious. It’s that simple. Just immerse yourself in it. You’ll despair and hope at the same time, because isn’t that what humans do?
Set in the Cold War during the Reagan administration, it’s a story spun over approximately a year in the life of an arms treaty negotiation. Obviously, this is the USSR and the USA meeting again to try to hammer out a treaty reducing arms and other provisions such as inspections and testing.
This beautiful story is about the past, present, and future of the human race as embodied in two men. One is a Russian from Leningrad who remembers WWII, and the other is a younger American from Wisconsin. It’s a fencing match, a chess game, and a game of tag. For one man, it is a time of losing one’s ideals and finding one’s core beliefs. For the other, it is a time of reckoning with the past and leaving something for the future. For both, this is a realization of hope and what might have been. The playwright, Lee Blessing, fills his script with truth, humor, and an ineffable sadness. Even the title has depths upon depths. One such line, wryly delivered by the Russian negotiator, “Let’s take advantage of this exquisite time when everything is broken,” simply floods one’s mind and heart because we all know this feeling — and we’ve all survived it.
As Andrey Botvinnik, the diplomat/negotiator for the Russians, Brendan Murray manages to channel an entire culture and make it human. Greg Lang plays John Honeyman on the United States’s side. His portrayal is incisive and intelligent. You sense that, beneath the surface, Botvinnik’s words are teaching his younger counterpart some vital truths. Watching Honeyman’s awakening is bittersweet, as is the reason for Botvinnik’s generosity. These two actors are perfect foils for each other. There is push and pull but yet they keep coming into the wooded park for these private talks that contain the world.
The play is seamlessly directed by Adam Konowe, who keeps the pacing tight and allows the script and actors to shine. The set is designed by Maggie Modig and is deceptively simple — a clearing in a wooded park with a bench, rocks, flora, and trees — as both a classroom and a refuge. Lighting designer, Ian Claar, uses his skills to ground us in the seasons and time of day. Kudos to costumer designer Kathy Dunlap for the suits, wide ties, shoes, overcoats, and most of all, the hats! The clothes tell us what these men’s positions are and how important they are. They harken back to the last time men really wore hats regularly in winter.
This play is as relevant in today’s world as when it was set. Reston Community Players has obviously fully embraced, for now, the virtual world of theatre-making. It has chosen a script, setting, and actors that make you long for more of this type of theatre.
It’s glorious. It’s that simple. Just immerse yourself in it. You’ll despair and hope at the same time because, isn’t that what humans do?
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes with one two-minute intermission.
“A Walk in the Woods” runs through March 25, 2021. This production is pre-recorded on stage and presented virtually, through on-demand streaming by Reston Community Players. For more information, please click here.