The Theatreguide.London Review
In The Woods
Tricycle Theatre Autumn 2011
It is interesting how time can change some works of art.
In 1985 Lee Blessing's play about Russian and American arms negotiators meeting informally away from the conference table was an uplifting fable, offering Cold War audiences the hope that individual amity and good sense could triumph over government intransigence and sabre-rattling.
The play might seem doomed to the dusty shelves as a period piece, but this revival imported from Vermont's Northern Stage finds another drama inside it through the device of changing the gender of one of the two characters.
Blessing surprised audiences a bit by making his Russian more of a mensch than the American, an older and more experienced diplomat warmer in personality and eager to establish a personal relationship, while the younger American is more formal and by-the-book, wary of friendship not just because he mistrusts his opponent but because that's not the way the textbooks told him things should go.
The producers of this revival clearly believed that making the American a woman was merely a nod to reality – America has had three female Secretaries of State since this play was written – but it actually makes it a different play, or rather finds a new play hidden within Blessing's.
Although director Nicolas Kent and actress Myriam Cyr in no way stress or underline it, the American woman inescapably comes across, not as inherently stuffy, but as trying too hard to be by-the-book professional, worried that any hint of informality would be taken as 'feminine' weakness.
And to a certain extent she's right, because Steven Crossley's Russian, without ever suggesting conscious or overt sexism, can't help having moments that play as patronising or avuncular.
And so a play that was written about the difficulties of individual good will in overcoming entrenched international politics in 1985 is a play about the difficulties of individual good will in overcoming entrenched sexual politics in 2011.
And that shift in focus, which may have been unintentional, makes the play engrossing and fascinating today in ways Blessing's original meanings might not be.
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Review - A Walk In The Woods - Tricycle 2011
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