“A Walk in the Woods” Captivates—Even As It Tackles Diplomacy

In Lee Blessing’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, the characters struggle with a conflict that may end life as we know it, and still maintain their humanity.

The early ‘80s nuclear arms race brought civilization to the brink of annihilation; the Soviet and American stockpiles alone were enough to destroy the world several times over. This makes the negotiation process in this show all the more brave.

Based on real events, “Woods” is a talky two-person piece that focuses on two diplomats’ personal relationship as they attempt to reduce the nuclear capacities of the world’s great superpowers. Sound like a snooze fest? It isn’t. Nic Bowling’s astute direction keeps the show buoyant, while performers Janet Ulrich Brooks and David Parkes find the levels and humor that keep us rooting for their success.

Brooks’ Soviet envoy is a political lifer desperate to bring a little levity and irreverence to a stymied table. Cynical about the conference’s chances for success, she tries to lose herself in American pop culture and minutiae. Brooks obviously relishes Blessing’s smart script; her wry line readings are always creative and surprising. Parkes’ American diplomat starts out as a straight arrow, an ambitious low-level negotiator determined to make the most of a recent promotion. Parkes nails his character’s hilarious loss of composure as he becomes increasingly frustrated with the process, demonstrating the limits of even the most political of animals.

Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set, combined with Mike Tutaj’s projections, suggest the sylvan beauty of the Geneva woods where the real-life discussions took place. Both the set and the script are constant reminders of what we’ll lose if we’re not careful.

“A Walk in the Woods” runs through November 20 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. For tickets, call the Theater Wit Box office at 773-975-8150 or at timelinetheater.com