Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

A Walk in the Woods
Shakespeare & Company
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Fred's review of Anna in the Tropics and Zander's review of Once on This Island

Jonathan Epstein and Allyn Burrows
Photo by Nile Scott Studios
Lee Blessing's A Walk in the Woods, playing various late mornings and early afternoons at Lenox, MA-based Shakespeare & Company through September 4th was, quite deservingly, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. The current production features the troupe's artistic director, Allyn Burrows, opposite longtime galvanic actor Jonathan Epstein. Directed by James Warwick, it's a two-hour, sharp, thematically relevant play and one which is laced with much clever comedy. This summer treat is staged outside at The Roman Garden Theatre.

Suffice to say it's amazing that a story lacking significant high drama completely commands one's attention. A moment in time feeds the plot line, as two arms negotiators, an American and a Soviet, actually met in 1982 to attempt to forge an arms negotiation treaty. They evidently rose from the table, at one point, and went for a walk. Burrows, as American John Honeyman, and Epstein, as Andrey Botvinnik, re-enact that behavior. They are in Switzerland and will have four gatherings during different seasons of the year.

Devon Drohan's set, following a bright Burrows idea, is exquisite. In his Director's Notes, Warwick explains that Shakespeare & Company lost a nearby ash tree last year. Burrows recommended the tree's wood could be utilized in the future. Thus, A Walk in the Woods sports multiple large vertical slabs of wood almost staring upward at the sky. The principal actors sit on a wooden bench. As one scene yields to the next, wreaths on either side change floral colors to represent the appropriate time of year. The visuals are all quite delectably charming.

Andrey knows just how to flip John Honeyman's buttons with an imperative like, "Be frivolous with me." Or he asks, "Did you ever sleep with a redhead?" The American wants to get down to the business of formulating a plan for peace but the Russian keeps infuriating his counterpart. Early during the second act, Honeyman presents an excellent document but Botvinnik balks by saying "We don't trust you."

The Russian diplomat, beneath his warm demeanor and humor, is skeptical if not cynical. The American is stiff like a rod and seemingly unwilling to share a quip. Yet he is driven to get something done, to be effective. Lurking in the background is the question of whether these leading men of their individual countries can be constructive opponents who come together to find a positive conclusion, or not. Further, can they become comrades? For those with social, political consciences, it might be impossible to watch this presentation without thinking about the current situation in Ukraine.

Burrows embodies John Honeyman with aplomb. Successfully portraying characters at the company's two sites for years, his current performance recalls excellent work in Jane Martin's Jack and Jill, another two character play staged a couple of decades ago. Epstein is an acting force who has taken more than 60 roles with the company since 1987. His take on the title character in King Lear during the summer of 2003 remains memorable. The same can be said for his interpretations, on two separate occasions, of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Then there's his characterization of Mark Rothko a dozen years ago in Red at Hartford's Theater Works. Epstein is a masterful performer.

The men bring energy, experience, feel for the characters, and passion to their roles here. Andrey is the older of the two, but John often appears more stuck than spry. Warwick moves the actors effectively and, for each segment, costumer Christina Beam outfits them with a slight change–it might be a different color tie or, in Andrey's case, another and more spiffy hat.

The trappings are inviting, but seating in the sun might (as it did during the recent heat wave) be just a tad torrid for observers, so beware. Otherwise, the performance combines pointed storytelling (pertinent, for sure, during the current era) with estimable live stage dexterity.

A Walk in the Woods runs through September 4, 2022, at Shakespeare & Company's Roman Garden Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox MA. For tickets and information, please call 413-637-3353 or visit