On Sept. 29, CAST Players of Beaumont opened their season with the Lee Blessing drama “A Walk in the Woods”, starring Ralph Griffey and Larry Sichter and directed by Richard Meinhold. I was able to make my way to the production on this moderately attended opening afternoon.
The play is set in the mid 1980’s in the outskirts of Geneva, where two men strive to negotiate an arms agreement across a table while truly doing the bulk of the work in the woods.
It is during this time that they forge an unlikely bond that surpasses the chasm of differences that are created between the Russian and American governments.
This play had only two actors: Ralph Griffey, playing the cynical Russian at the end of his career and Larry Sichter playing the idealistic American just starting out.
Each actor approached the parts with enough force that one could almost overlook the fact that the age difference between the actors put Sichter the senior and Griffey the junior. Still it took some getting used to, to have a young cynic and an older idealist. Though the actors handled it gracefully, it was probably not the best casting choice. Griffey certainly had the lion’s share of the drive in the play which he handled adeptly, unfortunately this left Sichter rather dry in comparison.
With only two actors bouncing dialogue off each other I will give them a great deal of credit for keeping the play moving forward. Griffey’s character was determined to derail Sichter and therefore his dialogue was full of non-sequiturs, yet the men battled through the play with fierce determination.
Though spattered with a few golden nuggets of socio-political insight and wisdom the play never seemed to take off.
It was more of a stroll in a park than a walk in the woods. It simply lacked the strum and drang that a play with only two actors needs to keep an audience captivated.
The highs were not quite high enough to move me to laughter and the lows were not low enough to elicit an equally desperate response.
In the end I was simply not drawn into the lives of these two men as I should have been, nor into the tension of the arms race.
I found myself simply waiting for one of them to leave the stage so the season could change.
Unfortunately, when this did happen the scene changes were so mishandled that the audience was left in the dark for up to three excruciating silent minutes, notwithstanding the sounds made by the crew changing the set.
At the very least if the director found it necessary to change the setting, which I humbly suggest is unnecessary, Meinhold could have provided the audience with a bit of music to pass the time, keep us in the era, perhaps propel the plot forward a bit or even just the sounds of the woods, unfortunately I was left in the void to contemplate my grocery list.
The actors did however, use the bits of foliage on the ground to indicate the season which was a lovely and the subtle indication of time passing.
Having just this on the ground would have been more than enough to keep the momentum the production going and accomplish the task at hand.
The venue lends itself to a minimalist show and this was a perfect choice for this intimate theatre, there is no harm in embracing the venue and being truly minimalist.
These two fine and skilled actors found themselves in a quandary that is not entirely unknown to this industry, they seemed to lack the chemistry between them that would have honestly drawn the audience in.
This was simply not a deeply moving drama.
It was a fine way to spend a couple of hours pontificating with two gentlemen the woes of political policy and the oppression of progression, idealism and cynicism.
I recommend you buy a cup of coffee and a bag of cookies at the snack bar before you watch these men traverse the waters of the arms race as they walk through the woods.
Matinee performances are at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13 and on Saturday, Oct. 12. Evening performance is on Friday, Oct. 11.
All performances are at the Beaumont Women's Club Community Center.
Tickets are $15 per/person, and may be obtained at www.castplayers.org, or by calling (951) 315-4253. Reservations are recommended.
Tamara Lillibridge-Griffey is a SoCal native and a 20-year resident of Redlands. She teaches technical theatre, and abjudicates for the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Ralph Griffey is Tamara’s ex-husband.