Current reading: A Walk in the Woods by Lee Blessing. This is a play that I saw performed way back when I was a freshman in college (1989, to be precise). The story involves two men, a Russian and an American, who are both arms negotiators in Geneva, Switzerland during the Cold War. When I saw the play performed, it was just a month or two before the Berlin Wall came down and the German Reunification began; at that time the Soviet Union still existed. I wondered, when I found a copy of the play in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, if the work would still seem relevant given the decade that has passed since the Cold War ended. Now that I’ve read it, I realize that while the specific issues referenced in the play no longer exist, the greater issues — war and our sick fascination with it — are still as present as ever, especially now that we are apparently at war with not even a nation but with a concept (terrorism).
In the play, the Russian (Botvinnik) is a glib man who seems to take nothing seriously, constantly ribbing his American counterpart (Honeyman) for his inability to talk about anything other than arms agreements and weapons levels and verification schemes and the like. The two men walk into the woods during a break one day and sit on a bench, whereupon Botvinnik launches one of many attempts to get Honeyman to talk about something frivolous. Honeyman (and, by extension, the audience) initially sees Botvinnik as unfocused, but as the play progresses it becomes clear that Botvinnik is actually deeply cynical about the degree to which either of the superpowers wants peace at all. Both countries, he says, claim to want peace but put pathetically little effort into the pursuit of peace — because, “Without nuclear weapons our empires would no longer be empires. They would simply be countries among other countries….a rich, powerful Canada and an enormous, distended Poland.” Honeyman, of course, is deeply idealistic and protests: “Mankind truly does hate war.” Botvinnik’s response to this statement is the single line from this play that has stuck with me in all the thirteen years since I saw it, and the line that most made me want to read it when I found it on those library stacks:
“If mankind hated war, there would be millions of us and only two soldiers.”
Powerful stuff, that. It’s a fine, fine play. Seek it out if you can. I’m fairly certain it is out of print, but then, that’s what libraries are for.