Interview: Lee Blessing And Joe Bishara of A WALK IN THE WOODS at Abbey Theatre Of Dublin

Abbey Theatre to host the Columbus premiere of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama nominee

By: Apr. 18, 2024
Interview: Lee Blessing And Joe Bishara of A WALK IN THE WOODS at Abbey Theatre Of Dublin
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Interview: Lee Blessing And Joe Bishara of A WALK IN THE WOODS at Abbey Theatre Of Dublin

Frank and Harriet Blessing gave their son Lee the perfect graduation gift after he completed his Bachelor of English degree from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1971.

It just wasn’t the one they picked out for him. Blessing’s parents offered him a car, but the playwright had another idea.

I said, ‘You know, there's this tour of the Soviet Union next summer. I'd rather have that,’” Blessing said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles

It turned out to be a very wise decision. Without that six-week, 12-city tour of the former Soviet Union, Blessing said he would have had difficulty writing his seminal work, A WALK IN THE WOODS.

The play, which was nominated for a Tony award in 1988 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987, will be performed May 17-18 at the Abbey Theater of Dublin (5600 Post Road in Dublin).

“A WALK IN THE WOODS is a very fictionalized play (about actual events) about the human condition and the nuclear puzzle,” Blessing said. “It needed someone who could create a realistic Russian and a realistic American.

“I probably wouldn't have had the confidence to write it if I hadn't been around Russians and studied Russian for a while,” said Blessing, who made a second visit to the USSR in 1989.

Blessing has written over 30 plays about everything from baseball to Billy The Kid, but A WALK IN THE WOODS was one of his few “political” plays. It tells the story of two diplomats, the Soviet Union’s Andrey Botvinnik (played by Tom Holliday) and American John Honeyman (Joe Bishara) who become frustrated by a nuclear arms negotiation in Geneva, Switzerland and end up taking a walk through the pines away from the hostile deal-making tables. They find common ground and appear to break through a Cold War impasse at the bargaining table.

The play was performed on Broadway in 1988 with Sam Waterston playing the Honeyman role and Robert Prosky taking on the Botvinnik part. The two reprised their roles for a 1989 television movie. Also in 1988, the play found an audience in London’s West End with actors Alec Guiness (Botvinnik) and Edward Herrmann (Honeyman).

In 2014, the play was returned to NYC for an Off-Broadway run with the Soviet role being played by Kathleen Chalfant while Paul Niebanck was Honeyman. The change in the script hoped to reflect the rise of women in positions of political power.

Bishara, the Abbey Theater of Dublin’s supervisor, believes this is the first time the work has been performed in Central Ohio.

“For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by small-cast plays and politics – specifically, plays that shine a light on the worker bees in the political process that the general public has very little to no knowledge about,” Bishara said. “A WALK IN THE WOODS checks all those boxes. We are honored to be producing the Central Ohio premiere of the play.”


A WALK IN THE WOODS is based on a “real life” event when Paul H. Nitze and Yuli A. Kvitsinsky left the 1982 Geneva negotiations for an unofficial "walk in the woods" and achieved a breakthrough. The agreement was then rejected by both the U.S. and Soviet powers that be.

Shortly after the play came out, Blessing received the ultimate compliment.

“I’ve heard not only did Nitze read and enjoy the play but had a poster of it in his office,” he said with a chuckle.

“(When I was writing it) I wanted to make the Russian much more personable than the American because audiences would have walked in with the opposite expectation. The first thing you want to do is get the audience somewhat off balanced because if they are off balanced, they start believing what you say.”

The Cold War may be over and the Soviet Union does not exist any longer. However, with the ever escalating situation between Russia and Ukraine has given A WALK IN THE WOODS a greater sense of urgency.

 “The simple principle is if you invent a military technology, you can never uninvent it,” Blessing said. “The minute we had atomic weapons, anything written about them was always going to (work). A play about eliminating them, of trying to control them, is always going to feel current.” 

“I wish A WALK IN THE WOODS did not feel as timely now as it did when it was originally produced,” Bishara added. “I think this play illuminates the importance for each of us as citizens of the world to understand that there are many layers to foreign politics/relations.”

Interview: Lee Blessing And Joe Bishara of A WALK IN THE WOODS at Abbey Theatre Of Dublin


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