The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Walk in the Woods is the story of an impossible friendship, one that grows between an earnest young American arms negotiator and his more cynical Soviet counterpart during their private walks together over a period of many months. It is also the story of two nations attempting to avert a nuclear holocaust in spite of the political and economic forces that seem to be pushing them relentlessly toward it.

The conflict between these two contrasting elements of the play, the public and the private, the political and the personal, is established in the first of the play’s four scenes, during which the novice American negotiator, Honeyman, repeatedly refuses the more experienced Botvinnik’s offer of friendship.

His rebuff is not due to any personal hostility based on Cold War rivalry. On the contrary, he comes to the table full of enthusiasm and high hopes for a rapid and successful conclusion to the talks, replacing a more experienced negotiator named McIntyre, whose personal inflexibility was a source of irritation to Botvinnik. “We negotiated for two years, and he never changed his position,” complains Botvinnik. “The American position changed . . . ” objects Honeyman, to which the Russian responds: “No, no—his position. Sitting there, at the table. He always sat straight up. For two years he never relaxed.”

Honeyman appears in the opening scene to be cut from the same stiff cloth as McIntyre, and much of the play revolves around Botvinnik’s attempts to break through his bureaucratic exterior and find the man within, while Honeyman struggles to hammer out an agreement on arms reduction.

The second scene opens, two months later,...

(The entire section is 700 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Walk in the Woods is a very simple play, requiring only two actors and one set. Every scene takes place in the same “pleasant woods” outside Geneva. Such classical unity of place is offset, however, by the fact that each of the play’s four scenes is separated from the others by a period of several months. In fact, each scene takes place in a different season, beginning in late summer and ending in early spring. This simple device illustrates not only the passage of time but also the dramatic arc of the ongoing conversation between the two protagonists. Summer fades into winter as Honeyman’s initial hopes fade into bitterness and despair. Yet, the play concludes not in the coldest depths of winter, but with the renewal of hope promised by the earliest days of spring.

The cycle of the seasons also reflects the changing relationship between the two protagonists. Botvinnik begins as the mature mentor to Honeyman’s naïvely optimistic newcomer, but in the second act the American assumes a more clear-eyed maturity, while the Russian moves toward retirement. The contrast between these two characters, and the development of their relationship over the course of the play, is a key element of the drama.

Another important dramatic device in A Walk in the Woods is paradox due, in part, to the paradoxical nature of the subject matter. The principle of “mutual assured destruction” on which the concept of nuclear deterrence...

(The entire section is 453 words.)


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Blessing, Lee. “Accidents in a Moral Universe.” American Theater 18 (October, 2001): 10-11.

Blessing, Lee. “An Interview with Lee Blessing.” Interview by Joseph G. Rice. American Drama 2 (Fall, 1992): 84-100.

Henry, William A. Review of A Walk in the Woods. Time 129 (March 9, 1987): 88.

Sauvage, Leo. Review of A Walk in the Woods. The New Leader 71 (March 21, 1988): 23.