by Lee Blessing
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Starring Kathleen Chalfant and Paul Niebank
A Production of the Keen Company
at Theatre Row

Reviewed by David Spencer

I was quite fond of A Walk in the Woods when it debuted on Broadway in 1988, but I think I have more appreciation for it now. At the time I was very conscious of how Lee Blessing’s script—about two peace-treaty (or arms) negotiators, one American, one Russian, who go for long walks in the woods to discuss their differing POVs—assiduously avoids any substantive discussion about the actual treaty terms, save the occasional laundry list of items that have been discussed and debated offstage. All these years later, with new international threats making such terminology less meaningful, I’m much less aware of the “bait and switch” device, and hear its dialogue as a more nuanced discussion of political craft, of the principles of diplomacy.

            It may also be that the gender switch has changed the dynamic. In its first New York cast, Sam Waterston was the uptight American negotiator, and Robert Prosky the deceptively avuncular and informal Russian. But in Keen Company’s current revival, Kathleen Chalfant assays the Russian; rather than avuncular, she’s just a little bit maternal, and that gives Paul Niebank’s American a somewhat different obstacle…and collaborator. It may even be another factor that makes the play seem a little less facile.

            The two performers make for an excellent duet under the direction of Jonathan Silverstein, and that walk in the woods is a very pleasant, thoughtful and modestly touching one to take.

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