Quotidian Theatre does certain things very well. One of them is capturing the sense of a historical place or period, as they have captured a specific place in their current play, Lee Blessing's "A Walk in the Woods."
The setting is Geneva and reflects the real meeting, in 1982, of two arms negotiators, one Russian, one American, who met unofficially apart from the negotiating table, where long, unproductive hours came to nothing.
The playbill doesn't specify what year the play takes place, and the play is vague enough to allow the spectator to realize that, although America and Russia may no longer be archenemies, there are other countries now with whom we need to negotiate to avoid nuclear disaster.
The two men onstage, the Russian Andrey Botvinnik (Steve LaRocque) and the American John Honeyman (Brit Herring) reveal not only personal frustration with the process but with the basic mistrust of both governments to agree to a document that might allow real change to happen. And, Blessing suggests, while negotiators are signing their names to agreements, who will swear that new secret weapons have not been developed and will be deployed before the ink is dry on the agreement?
|If you go|
|'A Walk in the Woods'|
|» Where: Quotidian Theatre Company, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda|
|» When: Through April 14|
|» Info: $25 to $30; 301-816-1023; quotidiantheatre.org|
In addition to being an opportunity for some intriguing political banter, "A Walk in the Woods" is also an excellent character study. Botvinnik is an older, urbane gentleman who enjoys life, although he's a bit jaded. The best lines go to him, for instance: "Formality is merely anger with its hair combed."
LaRocque nicely combines the various aspects of Botvinnik: the man who appreciates frivolity, loves to talk about Babe Ruth, appreciates nature, yet is cynical. At the end of the play he announces his retirement so that "someone else can come in and do absolutely nothing."
Herring is less successful playing the younger Honeyman, who is supposed to be idealistic and something of a pedant, driven to achieve agreement.
As directed by Gillian Drake, Herring's portrayal is overly stiff. When he first appears, he is the picture of American uptightness, with a black notebook clasped tightly to his chest, his English suit buttoned. Though he and Botvinnik come to some agreements about the need for hope and trust, there is a chord that is missing in Herring's performance, a sign that he is learning from Botvinnik, who has many lessons to teach.
Samina Vieth's set is charmingly spare. The foreground of the stage is studded with white-barked trees against a background of forest. A wooden bench allows the two men a place to sit and converse as the seasons change, it gets colder and deadlock remains, no matter how hard the participants try to achieve mutual understanding.