As they wander about Edward T. Morris’ simple, but elegant set—a raised circular platform and silhouettes of tree branches—the dynamic between them gradually becomes clear. Honeyman is earnest but wary of Botvinnik’s overtures of friendship. Thanks to Kristin Isola’s subtly witty costumes—a slightly mussed up suit for the American and an elegantly tailored one for the Russian—and the skill of the two actors, the two personalities are clear from moment one. Elizabeth Mak’s lighting keeps the seasons flowing by.
The action covers ten or so months in 1983. The play was suggested by a real incident that took place at a Geneva peace conferrence in 1982 in which the American and Russian negotiators went for a walk away from cameras and reporters.
Botvinnik has seen several American negotiators come and go. He works hard at getting into Honeyman’s head with a promise of friendship which Honeyman wisely refuses—at first. The Russian brings up Honeyman’s predecessor, McIntyre, vaguely making fun of his starchiness. They joke about the reporters and their frustrations in trying to reach an agreement to reduce arms. Botvinnik even uses Honeyman’s background in botany as a delaying tactic.
As the seasons change; the men’s relationship strengthens. Honeyman gets used to Botvinnik’s ploys of changing subjects, dancing around important matters and using psychology and minor medical issues to avoid committing himself. Facts are laid out, tossed about and ignored. Individual histories and political philosophies are laid bare.
Blessing manages the impossible. He not only keeps the conversation rolling along with a tight balance of business talk and personal revelation but also keeps it constantly fascinating. He has a fine sense of the rhythms of each character’s speech patterns and how to sneak in dramatic revelations organically. These two men are three dimensional, possessing both irritating idiosyncrasies and moving back stories.
The two talented, delightfully understated actors have taken on these roles with energy and sincerity. Manning makes Honeyman both simple and complex at the same time while Van Treuren mines Botvinnik’s uncanny ability to charm and frighten at the same time. You root for them from beginning to end and hope against hope for them to actually produce a treaty.
A Walk in the Woods (through April 15, 2018)
The Barrow Group, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.barrowgroup.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission