A Walk in the Woods

Remaining performances:

Saturday, July 17, at 11:30 a.m.
Saturday, July 17, at 9 p.m.
Sunday, July 18, at 4 p.m.
Saturday, July 24, at 3 p.m.

They Say: Lee Blessing‘s comic drama follows two Cold War nuclear arms negotiators, one American, one Russian, as they struggle for the impossible, to become friends. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award, and an Olivier Award.

Erin’s Take: If there’s one marquee production at Fringe this year, A Walk in the Woods is it. Not just because of the literary accolades (see ‘They Say’). Not just because of the buzz (Sunday’s show is sold out, and as of last night, there were only 30 seats remaining between the other three performances). Not just because of the crowd (dressier than most at Fringe, think cocktail dresses and statement jewelry). No, A Walk in the Woods is a officially a Show To See because of the sheer quality of the performances, by Jeff Baker and Anthony van Eyck.

When the show opens, we see Andrey (Baker) and John (van Eyck) meeting for the first time in—where else—Switzerland. Andrey is a veteran nuclear arms negotiator for Russia, but John is new to the job. They begin with talk of John’s predecessor, McEntyre, who has left diplomacy for a job at a law firm. “The private sector—that’s a wonderful thing you Americans have!” Andrey pronounces. The scene sets the tone for the first and second acts: Baker makes the most of Andrey’s quips, and van Eyck plays a very good straight man.

As they continue in their arms talks, Andrey makes overtures toward friendship but John, who wants to keep things strictly business, is reluctant. Their banter, featuring one-liners full of cultural misunderstanding—is almost Abbott-and-Costellian at times.

Andrei: “Be frivolous with me!”
John: “What does ‘frivolous’ mean?”
Andrei: “It’s your language—don’t you know the word?”

And, upon John’s attempt to make suitably light-hearted conversation.

John: “I hate brown suits.”
Andrei: “And?”
John: “That’s all. That’s not trivial enough?”
Andrei: “There’s a difference between trivial and boring.”

Though Andrei is the one who initially pushes for friendship, it’s ultimately John who exhibits more friend-like behavior, through displays of vulnerability in the third act. John confides to Andrei that the president regrets appointing him to the job. He admits that he liked seeing missiles fill vast swaths of emptiness in the Great Plains. He confesses that he was nearly arrested by a Swiss policeman.

With each of John’s admissions, van Eyck’s mannerisms grow more flustered, his line delivery more rushed. It’s jarring at first to see this man, who had initially been so matter-of-fact and composed, become a pacing, tongue-tripping wreck. But ultimately it’s touching to see him so thoroughly break down his walls. All the while Andrey remains the same coolly composed diplomat. His manner toward John is more patient than empathetic.

A Walk in the Woods is full of moments both humorous and poignant, and Baker and van Eyck give nuanced, dynamic performances. It’s surely one of the best productions you’ll see all festival.

See it: If you’re a fan of great acting and great dialogue.

Skip it: If you need an action-driven plot to hold your interest.