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THEATER REVIEW 'A WALK IN THE WOODS' : Timely Message : The current state of world affairs gives deeper meaning to the play focusing on U.S.-Soviet peace talks.

January 31, 1991|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When it debuted at the Yale Repertory Theater about four years ago, "A Walk in the Woods" could have been based on the day's headlines: Peace emissaries of the United States and Soviet Union discuss nuclear disarmament on neutral ground--a clearing in a forest, just outside Geneva.

Despite glasnost, "A Walk in the Woods" was still topical when chosen as the current production of the Conejo Players' Conejo Afternoon Theater, presented in Sunday matinees through Feb. 17.

The current state of world affairs puts a new spin on the subject, one that gives Lee Blessing's play (winner of a 1988 Tony nomination) a deeper dimension than it might have had even a few weeks ago.

A callow American negotiator meets with a seasoned Soviet career diplomat as the play begins. Several months, three more meetings and just over 90 minutes onstage later, the American and the audience have been exposed to quite a bit of information about both White House and Kremlin thinking.

Andrey Botvinnik has held similar talks with at least two of John Honeyman's predecessors, and the Soviet diplomat's cynicism shocks the American. "If man hated war," he declares, "there would be millions like you and me, and only two soldiers."

The drama is virtually all talk, and didactic in a form that was probably a cliche when Plato used it.

It's articulate, highbrow to a degree (PBS telecast a version some time ago), but easy enough for all but the most politically ignorant to follow. It's serious, but not without laughs, most of them generated by the Soviet who has seen and heard it all so many times before.

As Botvinnik and Honeyman, Gene Bernath and Alan Waserman are onstage together for the entire play. Bernath, who appeared in last summer's Xanadu Theater production of "Sleuth," is quite impressive as the somewhat stereotypically hearty Soviet; Waserman, new to Ventura County theater, is given a less ambitious character but makes the most of him.

Director Michael Tachco, who suggested this production, keeps the motion fluid and the notions clear. Lighting and sound, by Jeff Calnitz and Dave Crispin, are fine, although there's a bit of synthesized music that some may find a bit distracting.

Attending "A Walk in the Woods" would be a fine idea as an extracurricular project for a secondary school civics class; it's also one of the few forums, other than public affairs television programs, in which one can hear actual ideas flung around on a Sunday afternoon.

Possible topic for post-show discussion: What if Honeyman wasn't dealing with a Soviet diplomat in 1988, but a 1991 emissary of Saddam Hussein?

WHERE AND WHEN

"A Walk in the Woods" is performed on Sunday afternoons only, through Feb. 17 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks. Curtain time is 2:30 p.m., and tickets are $5 on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations are taken. Call (805) 495-3715.

vl,6

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