A brilliant script, superbly performed by a duo of our most talented actors. I know that's quite a buildup. But I'm ready to offer a money-back guarantee on this one (write me, care of Gambit, for details on this unprecedented offer).
The script in question is Lee Blessing's A Walk in the Woods, and the actors are Randy Cheramie and Bob Edes. Five years ago, I dragged myself to Perry Martin's production of this play at the Contemporary Arts Center (starring Cheramie and Scot Jefferson). "Dragged" because I had read that the play was about two arms-control negotiators during the height of the Cold War who become friends in the intervals between diplomatic meetings while strolling in a nearby park. Ooof! It sounded dull as dishwater and dated, to boot. Unfortunately, a lot of other people apparently thought as I did and stayed away in droves.
Well, the play was a magnificent surprise. It won a Big Easy Award for best play, best actor (Cheramie) and best lighting design.
Standing in line to see director Martin's revival, currently on the boards at the True Brew, I found myself confronted with quotes from my earlier review: "Fabulous! Delicate, funny, touching, truthful ... fresh and entertaining theater." While I was looking forward to the show this time, I did feel a slight flush of trepidation. Surely, I had been carried away in my enthusiasm. But, in fact, I was more impressed than ever.
Andrey Botvinnik (Cheramie) has been in Switzerland for arms-control negotiations for more than two decades. He has just met his new American counterpart, John Honeyman (Edes). While reporters gossip and speculate on the implications of their smallest gestures, the two men steal off for a walk in the woods. Honeyman is intense, idealistic, fiercely dedicated and somewhat vain about his talents and intelligence. He feels the destiny of the world rests, to a not inconsiderable degree, on the outcome of these negotiations. Given his personality and perspective, it's no wonder that he senses traps and ploys in the unorthodox behavior of his experienced Russian adversary, who insists on -- at times, almost pleads for -- friendship and the solace of lighthearted nonsense. Slowly, amidst an amusing battle of wits, we -- like Honeyman -- come to understand the bleak truth that underlies Botvinnik's frivolity. Cheramie and Edes are thoroughly at home in this droll, delicate pas de deux. At the risk of repeating myself, this is fresh and entertaining theater.
In repertory with A Walk in the Woods is another remarkable two-hander, Sea Marks by Gardiner McKay. Sea Marks is also a reprise and it also features the star of the earlier version. In 1996, Dane Rhodes received a Big Easy best-actor nomination for his portrayal of Colm Primrose, an Irish fisherman who is thrust unwillingly into literary fame.
Colm, who lives on a bleak northern island, meets Timothea Stiles, a Welsh woman living in Liverpool when she attends the wedding of a relative. A year later, he writes her and they start a correspondence. Finally, Timothea attends a second wedding. The epistolary friendship turns to flesh-and-blood romance. Colm accepts Timothea's invitation to stay at her apartment (his first venture off the island, except to fish). She also shows his letters to the owner of the publishing firm where she works. Without Colm's knowledge, the letters are published as a book. Colm is hailed as a "primitive" genius. But writing as a career and the literary scene that goes with it suit Colm not at all. The love of these two lonely souls, drawn to each other but deriving their inner strength from different and irreconcilable sources, is doomed from the start.
Rhodes once again gives us a strong, sensitive Colm, whose naturalness and befuddlement provide many moments of humor. Mary Lee Gibbons brings charm and believability to his citified lover. Actually, Timothea grew up on a poor Welsh farm, and the difference between her and Colm is not their backgrounds so much as their opposite reaction to those backgrounds. He needs to return; she, to escape.
The two plays, which can be seen on the same evening (with a half-hour break for a snack), present a fascinating contrast. Both are entertaining, bittersweet studies of friendship. A Walk in the Woods is flawless and understated. Sea Marks is more raw and, at times, perilously theatrical. Is it possible to publish a book without notifying -- not to mention signing a contract with -- the author? Would a man like Colm reveal his most painful feelings on nationwide TV?
Nonetheless, this is a stunning doubleheader. I saw both in a single night and left the theater exhilarated, wanting more.
- Randy Cheramie and Bob Edes make a dynamic duo in Perry Martin's second go-round with A Walk in the Woods at True Brew.