Culture Magazine

Review: A Walk in the Woods (Timeline Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat


John Honeyman and Janet Ulrich Brooks – Walk in the Woods 8

A Walk in the Woods

Written by Lee Blessing
Directed by Nick Bowling 
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru Nov 20  |  tickets: $34-$44  |  more info

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Check out the production study guide

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TimeLine starts its season with an atomic bang


John Honeyman and Janet Ulrich Brooks – Walk in the Woods 9

TimeLine Theatre presents


A Walk in the Woods

Review by Keith Ecker 

Once upon a time, the U.S. and Soviet Union were seen as the world’s two great superpowers. In an effort to flex their military muscles, the two stocked up on nuclear warheads in what became known as the nuclear arms race. The entire globe waited with bated breath, praying that both sides would maintain somewhat even tempers and practice restraint, lest the earth be blown to smithereens.

Playwright Lee Blessing captured the complexities of this time period by distilling the feud into two individuals, one being a Soviet negotiator and the other an American negotiator. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Walk in the Woods, these two state representatives interact, highlighting the absurdity of war and the futility of fighting for peace. The work is a brilliant and cutting comedy that leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. And though it has been more than 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and with it the death of Communism as we knew it, the play remains just as relevant as ever, as us Americans continue on our empirical path in the name of freedom.

Known for its historical productions, TimeLine Theatre is the perfect Chicago company to tackle this work. The theatre impressed me, and the rest of the Chicago critic community, with its powerful production of Frost/Nixon last year (our review ★★★★). And once again, the company does not disappoint. From the beautiful set design to the high-caliber performances, the company’s take on A Walk in the Woods is a strong start to the company’s 15th season.

Additionally, TimeLine exercised its artistic license by altering the sex of the Soviet. Originally portrayed as a man, the character is a female named Anya (flawlessly played by Janet Ulrich Brooks). This adds an interesting gender component to the already multi-themed play. Also, to note, the company did receive the blessings of Lee Blessing.

John Honeyman and Janet Ulrich Brooks – Walk in the Woods 7

The entirety of the play takes place in the woods of Switzerland. This is where recently appointed American arms negotiator John Honeyman (David Parkes) meets with Soviet negotiator Anya Botvinnik. The two are supposed to discuss nuclear treaties and foreign policy, but Anya has a penchant for getting off task. The artful Soviet is known for her talent to consistently say "No." But John, green and idealistic, thinks he can develop a rapport and work with Anya.

Sure enough, the two do develop a rapport, and in the process they drop some pretty great lines. There is some truly splendid dialogue here. The language is simple, concise and imbued with great meaning. Lines like (and I hope I’m not misquoting the lines) "Man is an animal that must fulfill every potential" and "If the world were not terrified of us, it would laugh" reveal the sardonic darkness of the play’s poetic comedy.

Parkes and Brooks have some real chemistry as the two negotiators. Parkes purposefully plays stiff, which makes the few outbursts of emotion that much more effective. Meanwhile, Brooks is intoxicatingly charming as the eerily good-natured Soviet.

Director Nick Bowling has done a commendable job highlighting the subtext of the banter. This includes the new subtext that the production creates thanks to the casting of a female. In addition, A Walk in the Woods is a bit of a directorial challenge given that it is basically a series of two-person scenes that all occur in the same location. I suppose I would have liked to have seen a little more movement incorporated into the piece, but often the dialogue and acting is so strong, this is not a distraction.

Scenic and lighting designer Brian Sidney Bembridge has created a work of art for these characters to live in. The metaphysical design gives the impression of the woods while existing simultaneously as an alien planet, a sort of limbo where enemies can rise beyond their categorizations and just be people. The use of projections, by Mike Tutaj, to represent the changing of seasons is also a clever touch.

TimeLine has once again taken the past and dramatized it to great effect. A Walk in the Woods is a riveting meditation on the similarities and differences between societies and psyches, war and peace, and man and woman, among other dichotomies. Thanks to its great script, talented cast and capable production crew, this is definitely a production not to be missed.


Rating: ★★★★


John Honeyman and Janet Ulrich Brooks – Walk in the Woods 3

TimeLine Theatre’s A Walk in the Woods continues through November 20th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $34 weekdays and $44 on Saturday/Sunday, and can be purchased by phone (773-975-8150) or online at Download the production study guide here.

All photos by Lara Goetsch 




Janet Ulrich Brooks* (Anya Botvinnik); David Parkes* (John Honeyman); Jeffrey Brown, Jean Waller (understudies)

behind the scenes

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