Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Take ‘A Walk in the Woods’

The Center and Company of Fools put on Cold War-era play

Express Staff Writer

John Glenn stars as John Honeyman in “A Walk in the Woods.”
Courtesy photo

    “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner,” South African leader Nelson Mandela said.
    Perhaps nothing illustrates this Mandela quote better than Lee Blessing’s Cold War-era play “A Walk in the Woods,” a Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play about Russian and American negotiations in the late 1980s. A free play reading by two members of Company of Fools, the Hailey-based theater troupe, will be held on Saturday, Sept. 27, as part of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ multidisciplinary Forests, Foraging and Fires project.
    The Center merged with Company of Fools in January 2013 and now present joint theater productions. Their programs are supported through the Engl Trust, the Idaho Commission on the Arts, the Idaho Humanities Council, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and proceeds from the Sun Valley Center for the Arts Wine Auction, among others.
    “A Walk in the Woods” centers on the budding friendship between an American arms negotiator and his pessimistic Soviet counterpart during nature walks on the periphery of Geneva, Switzerland. The year and specific conflict is unidentified. Scott Creighton plays Andrey Botvinnik, the experienced Russian hardliner who is skeptical about how germane the walks are to bridging cultural gaps. John Glenn plays John Honeyman, the pompous American idealist who ardently believes in the goals of the peace talks. As seasons change, the men’s bond deepens, as does the compounding difficulties of the outside diplomatic forces.
    According to a 1988 New York Times review of a stage performance of “A Walk in the Woods,” the play is based on a true story. Negotiators Paul Nitze and Yuli Kvitsinsky took a break from formal Geneva discussions in 1982 for a nature walk and were able to set aside their differences and reach common ground. Blessing is said to have taken “fictional liberties” on much of the event, however.
    Shifting the location of wartime negotiations from a formal roundtable to a placid nature setting, according to director Denise Simone, is what drives the two men’s growing trust for each other.
    “It can only be in this setting that a deep and wise understanding develops between these two decent men,” Simone said. “An accord that starkly differs from the truth that the real power rests not in their hands, but in the hands of those burdened by the bitterness of the past.”
    Toward the end of the play, Botvinnik tells Honeyman he’s leaving his post and Honeyman realizes he’ll need to start from the beginning with the new appointee, in order to work through the suspicion and cultural barriers a “new man” will bring.
    Forgiveness and renewed trust, Blessing reveals, will never be accomplished by two government forces embittered by old battle scars and failed relationships. Elements of humor, surprisingly, are said to carry the plot along with the more foreboding threat of nuclear war.
    The play is hosted as a part of the fall “Big Ideas” multidisciplinary project titled Forest, Foraging and Fires. The concept of Big Ideas originated over 15 years ago, according to The Center’s website, and is centered on a focal concept that can be interpreted through art, film, performance, lecture, writing and other mediums. This fall’s theme “offers our community the opportunity to participate in an in-depth conversation about our relationship to one of our most significant natural resources,” according to the news release.
    The reading of “A Walk in the Woods” on Saturday, Sept. 27, starts at 6:30 p.m. at The Center in Ketchum.
Amy Busek:


‘A Walk in the Woods’
WHAT: Company of Fools presents a free reading of the play “A Walk in the Woods” by Lee Blessing.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 27, at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Center, Ketchum.


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