The New York production of "A Walk in the Woods" by Lee Blessing opened at the Booth Theater in New York on February 28, 1988, ran for 137 performances and was nominated for the 1988 Tony Award for the Best Play. Sam Waterston recreated his stage role in the filmed production as did Robert Prosky who also was nominated for the 1988 Tony Award for Best Actor in Play. See more »
Lee Blessing's two-hander 'A Walk in the Woods' is fiction, but based on a true incident from the last years of the Cold War. During the 1982 Geneva peace negotiations, American delegate Paul Nitze would occasionally stroll through the nearby forest between negotiation sessions. During one of these walks, he encountered Yuli Kvitsinsky, a member of the Soviet delegation. (I'm slightly surprised that these men were able to meet surreptitiously, without security agents from both sides tailing them.) In an informal setting away from bureaucratic protocol, these two men of good will were able to discuss nuclear brinkmanship (and possible solutions) far more honestly than they were able to do at the negotiating table.
Before viewing this television production, I first saw 'A Walk in the Woods' onstage at the Booth Theatre in New York City. The theatre was filled with rich American liberals who were clearly hostile to their own nation's government, and receptive to the Soviet viewpoint. (So why don't they move there, then?) Nearly every line spoken by Botvinnik (the fictional Russian character) received laughter or applause, while Honeyman (the American character) clearly had an uphill battle to engage the audience's sympathies. Why does this foolish American insist on protecting his nation's interests? Doesn't he realise that, in order to attain international peace, America must drop its defences and trust the Soviets? On the other hand, the wise old Soviet delegate is absolutely right to keep his guard up and protect his own nation's interests: that's his job, after all. I seethed in rage as the above double standard unfolded on the stage in front of me, to the smug approval of the audience all round me.
My memories of the stage play were so painful that I almost didn't watch this television version. In the event, I'm glad that I did. Here is the same Broadway cast (Prosky and Waterston, both excellent), but with a different director ... and the television format enables me to watch the drama in solitude, without wallowing in the limousine-liberal pieties of a Broadway audience. It was almost an entirely new show! As performed here, the two roles are more evenly balanced than in the stage version, with Sam Waterston's protagonist sharing our sympathy. The fictional John Honeyman, to his credit, is obsessed with obtaining international peace. His Soviet counterpart is more interested in details of American culture (such as Willie Nelson) and eyedrops for his own medical condition. Andrey Botvinnik isn't worried: he realises that his job as a Soviet bureaucrat is a lifetime sinecure, whereas Honeyman is in danger of losing his job with the next U.S. election.
After comparing the stage and tele-productions, I now wonder if perhaps Lee Blessing did intentionally skew our sympathies towards the Russian character. In the real-life situation which inspired this play, Paul Nitze was significantly older than Yuli Kvitsinsky: wiser, more experienced in diplomacy. Blessing has intentionally reversed the characters' ages, making the Russian the calmer and cooler diplomat, and the American impetuous and excitable.
In real life, I'm pleased that the United States won the Cold War. 'A Walk in the Woods' is enjoyable and well-staged, but it can only be regarded as a period piece. Events have overtaken this play: now, we have less cause to worry about the Soviet bloc, and far more cause to worry about Jihadists who lurk in the dark. May America prevail against that madness. I'll rate 'A Walk in the Woods' 7 out of 10.
5 of 19 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?