LEWISTON — Two men talking about arms limitation negotiation as they take “A Walk in the Woods” becomes absolutely fascinating theater in Out of The Box Theater’s production of that play at Downstage at L/A Arts.

Mark Hazard’s portrayal of a Russian diplomat with a reputation for tenacity is faultless, and Paul Menezes scores equally well as the idealistic American who comes to grips with the unending duel he must wage with his counterpart from the Soviet Union.

Over several months, they meet and talk privately in a wooded area away from their high-level arms treaty negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland. There, away from reporters, they work through suspicion and skepticism as they develop a reluctant understanding and unlikely friendship.

The two actors capture the audience’s attention immediately, and their one-on-one discussions become an absorbing lesson in man’s perpetual search for understanding. The things they talk about range from world destruction to Willie Nelson.

Director John Blanchette puts one simple park bench on the stage, and his two actors use it as a woodland metaphor for the negotiating table where they must be unyielding representatives of their governments’ positions.

Blanchette said Hazard and Menezes did a lot of independent research leading up to their performances. And because they prepared well for their parts, the director was able to concentrate on the nuances of the performances.

That he did very well. The script is filled with commentary that might seem insignificant, but Blanchette makes sure that none of it is lost. One actor may be speaking, but the subtle reaction of the other adds significant insight to the dialogue. A raised eyebrow, a softening of expression, a meaningful glance are all used to excellent effect.

As Andrey Botvinnik, Hazard employs an accent that is smooth and easily understood. Menezes, as the American diplomat John Honeyman, gives an excellent portrayal of the younger diplomat who comes to a reluctant acceptance of his Russian counterpart’s honest desire for friendship, despite the pressures of their political responsibilities.

Both Hazard and Menezes are veterans of dramatic theater performances in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

“A Walk in the Woods,” by Lee Blessing,” is based on events at the 1982 Geneva Peace Talks where top-level arms limitations negotiators Paul Nitze of the United States and Yuli Kvitsinsky of the Soviet Union met away from the bargaining table.

“I didn’t set out to do a message piece,” Blanchette states in his program notes. This production may deal with politics, but it’s about the human side of the two men. It shows them changing as they learn to trust each other. It’s an optimistic story, and there’s lots of humor in Blessing’s script.

Hazard’s portrayal of the world-weary older man captures the Russian’s desire to honor his country’s political realities, but he understands that friendship can gain as much as rigidity of purpose.

Menezes gives Honeyman’s character a stiff countenance that slowly bends to an uneasy acceptance of the Russian’s unexpected overtures of good will.

The Downstage venue of L/A Arts is just right for this kind of production. The theater has 50 seats, and the small stage brings the performance directly to the audience.

Remaining shows

WHAT: “A Walk in the Woods”

WHO: Out of The Box Theater

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 28-30

WHERE: Downstage at L/A Arts, 5 Canal Street Alley, Lewiston

TICKETS: $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Call L/A Arts at 782-7228 or visit  www.laarts.org.


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