Lee Blessing's 1985 play is based on the real life 'walk-in-the-woods' arms agreement that took place when US arms negotiator, Paul Nitze, and his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky, took to the forest outside Geneva in an effort to resolve their nations' nuclear deadlock with informal talks. But while the drama takes the arms negotiations as its context, A Walk in the Woods avoids becoming bogged down by politics and is ultimately a play about two people attempting to understand each other across an ideological divide.
The part of the American negotiator was originally written for a man, but has been made into a female role for this production. Myriam Cyr is delightfully awkward as the humourless Joan Honeyman, while Steven Crossley is simply masterful as Andrey Botvinnik. Indeed, such is the strength of Crossley's performance that Cyr occasionally appears overly earnest in comparison. It is the only flaw in an otherwise perfect dynamic.
What is so refreshing here is the total absence of sex in this relationship – one suspects that if the play had been written with a woman in mind originally, the dramatic and comedic outcomes might have been very different. As it is, we are witness to a negotiation untrammelled by sexual politics, with very funny and revealing results.
Blessing's characters unfold before us in unexpected ways, credit both to his writing and Nicolas Kent's assured direction. Honeyman is hard-edged and closed-off, yet idealistic, while Botvinnik is naughty and charming, but utterly cynical about the task at hand.
The play's two metaphors, of the woods in which the pair walk to get away from the stifled atmosphere of the negotiating table, and the vision – clear or cloudy – of the negotiators themselves, hang over the drama, reminding us of the grander political narrative. Polly Sullivan's design subtly evokes the violence of the era, while also providing a pleasantly non-combative space for the action to take place. The passing of the seasons – intimated by a handful of autumn leaves here, a winter coat there – provides a tidy frame for the narrative, the play's four scenes giving a strong sense of the frustrating pace of the negotiating process, as well as the negotiators' developing relationship.
The other two plays in the Tricycle's Nuclear Season may not now be taking place until the new year due to a post-riots scheduling shuffle, but if the success of A Walk in the Woods is anything to go by, they will be worth the wait.