A Walk in the Woods Comes to LA Theatre Works this Weekend Only

It’s no secret I love live theatre. While I’ve attended countless plays and musicals, this week I’ll have the pleasure of seeing Lee Blessing’s A Walk in the Woods. Yet, with a twist. Instead of a traditional stage production, LA Theatre Works is presetting the Tony and Pulitzer Prize nominated play as a live broadcast before a live audience.

Taking place at UCLA’s James Bridges Theatre, A Walk in the Woods is the brilliant and witty story of a clever, cynical Russian (Alfred Molina) and an idealistic young American (Steven Weber) nearing the end of the Cold War. The 2 men meet in the woods outside Geneva to explore the obstacles their countries face on the path to peace. There, they debate politics, life and the future of the free world. Can personal bonds bridge political chasms?

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to connect with playwright, Lee Blessing, and A Walk in the Woods director, Cameron Watson. Find our interviews below.

A Walk in the Woods Playwright, Lee Blessing

Mary: What inspirations sparked you to write A Walk in the Woods?

Lee: Nuclear arms negotiations were front-page news in the mid-1980’s, so it was a very current theme when I wrote the play.  While the play is fictional, it’s inspired by a real event which the press dubbed the “Walk in the Woods” between the American and Soviet head negotiators in 1982.  For me it was an emblem of the “get nothing accomplished” spirit which seemed to surround the entire effort in Geneva.  Of course the play has remained current because while the threat of these sorts of weapons has changed, it has never gone away.

Mary: Do you think audiences take away something different today when they see the production than those who first saw it at Yale Rep in the 80’s?

Lee: The threat of proliferation is more current today than it was back then.  North Korea is now a player in the nuclear game.  Russia has recently been rattling its nuclear sabers as well and is featuring new, more threatening nuclear weapons systems–“treaty busters” in a sense.  Security is reduced simply because more nations have the capacity to start a nuclear war.

Playwright Lee Blessing, Alfred Molina,
director Cameron Watson and Steven Weber
Photo by Stacey Martinez
Alfred Molina
Photo by Matt Petit
Steven Weber
Photo by Derek Hutchison
Advice to Aspiring Playwrights and Lee’s Perfect Day

Mary: As Head of the graduate play writing program at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, what’s a piece of advice you offer to aspiring playwrights?

Lee: Look for the most powerful theme you can write about.  Too many young writers settle for something that’s simply intriguing.  Theatre going is much more of an investment than TV viewing or even film going.  It’s hard to keep a theatre audience involved with a theme that’s less than urgently important to their lives, sometimes even in a comedy.

Mary: And, lastly-what’s your perfect day look like?

Lee: A day when I get all my questions answered.

Director, Cameron Watson

Mary: As a director with both screen and stage credits, how do you begin the process to direct a stage drama like A Walk in the Woods?

Cameron: Everything starts with the word on the page. The text is everything. And in this case, Lee has crafted a taute, muscular and gorgeous work that lifts from the page beautifully. I then focus on the actors. It is their job to bring the text to life. The truth is of great interest to me in the work. The truth of who these people are and what they want and need.

Mary: Since this production is also being broadcasted, was any special emphasis put on the actors to ensure those listening at home will get the same powerful experience as going to the theatre?

Cameron: Yes, we have taken great care int he preparation of this piece, to make sure that not only the viewing audience is fully fulfilled, but that the listening audience at home will have the same clarity and precision of the story. We have made slight adjustments to certain lines that will enhance and aid with the physical action that is happening between the two characters.

The Magical World of Directing

Mary: What do you enjoy most about directing for stage, and anything you miss when not directing for screen?

Cameron: I love both mediums, but the stage is so very alive and present and of-the-moment. It is happening right now and right now only. the beautiful thing that LATW does is to capture that organic spontaneity of performance and audience, and make it available to a vast listening audience.

Mary: Who are some of your influences for directing?

Cameron: I certainly admired and respected Mike Nichols and his work a great deal. He had a marvelous balance of  film and stage work, and also work as a performer. I am very fond of James Lapine and Jack O’Brien and Joe Mantello in the theatre. In film, I am a big fan of Elia Kazan, Stanley Donan and John Sayles, to mention a few. I am just as inspired, and even more so actually, by playwrights and writers. My real inspiration comes from the page.

See A Walk in the Woods this Weekend Only

See Alfred Molina (Vice, Spider Man 2, Boogie Nights) and Steven Weber (13 Reasons Why, Wings, Mom) perform A Walk in the Woods from January 25th to 27th. Each of the performances at UCLA’s state-of-the-art James Bridges Theater will be recorded live in front of an audience for future radio broadcast, distribution on CD, digital download and online streaming.

L.A. Theatre Works’ syndicated radio theater series broadcasts weekly on public radio stations across the U.S. (locally, in Southern California, on KPFK 90.7 FM); can be heard daily in China and around the world on the Radio Beijing Network; can be downloaded as a podcast via iTunes and NPR One; and can be streamed on demand at www.latw.org.

A talk back with Lee Blessing and professor of political science Richard D. Anderson, Jr., a specialist on Soviet politics and foreign policy, will follow the Saturday matinee performance. Order your tickets HERE.

(*Disclosure: I will be attending A Walk in the Woods on behalf of this article. All opinions are my own.)

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