When it comes to theater, sometimes bigger isn’t better. Sometimes all you need is two actors and some trees.
Thunder River Theatre Company will kick off its 2019-2020 season this weekend with “A Walk in the Woods” by Lee Blessing.
Written in 1986, the play tells the story of two arms limitation negotiators. The pair, one American and one Russian, spend time in the woods near Geneva as their negotiations and relationship grow amid the Cold War.
“It’s a piece that drama lovers will love,” said Corey Simpson, the director of the play and executive artistic director at Thunder River Theatre Company. “And it’s also a very funny play. The underlying dynamics are so fun to watch.”
Two-time Henry Award-winning Bob Moore plays the part of Andrey Botvinnik, the Russian negotiator. Alongside him is Wendy Tennis, who is new to Thunder River Theatre but has plenty of theater experience elsewhere. Tennis plays the role of Joan Honeyman, the American.
In the original script for “A Walk in the Woods,” both of the characters are cast as men, but the playwright gave approval to TRTC for a mixed-gender cast, according to Simpson. He said this was one of the play’s elements that he is most excited about because of the relevance to the current day and age.
“We’ve seen women really demonstrating how important their voice can be in contemporary politics,” Simpson said. “I’m excited for the audience to see the dynamic of a woman standing face-to-face with a male colleague and bringing her important perspectives to the character.”
This change was one of the main reasons Moore said he was interested in playing the character, which he had played before about 10 years ago. He said that working with Tennis was another factor, as the two have shared the stage seven or eight times in the past.
With a two-character play, everything is stripped down to the interactions between the two. Tennis called it challenging work, and Simpson reassured that both actors are up to the task. They’ve been working on the play for six weeks, after an initial table read to get to know the play and the characters.
Tennis explains her character as a “down to business professional person” who sees the negotiations as an opportunity to prove herself.
“She has her faults, but she’s very passionate,” said Tennis. She added that she used the script alongside Simpson’s notes to help get into the character.
Moore calls his character a cynic with a “wonderful human side to him.” He explains that he loves the dichotomy of a man who has a side to him that is all business but also a side that appreciates the nature all around them and “the small things in life.”
Moore noted how working with a director and a fellow actor that he already knows helps bring comfort and fun to the set. Both actors said they enjoy working with Simpson because he looks to experimentation and feedback to help develop their characters. Simpson, in his third year with TRTC, usually directs one of the company’s four plays each season and occasionally acts.
“A Walk in the Woods” will open tonight. Simpson and the cast hope that audiences will walk away contemplating what is important and how the mood of the Cold War three decades ago is still pertinent today. They pointed to recent news regarding the relationship between the U.S. and Russia as an example of just how relevant it might be.
The show runs through Oct. 12 and because it’s the first show of the season, Simpson said that now is the time to buy season tickets, which get you all four shows for the price of three. Tickets for this show range from $15 to $30, and you can find them at thunderrivertheatre.com.