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Wadena and Staples collaborate on 'A Walk in the Woods'

Photo by Don Hoffman/Rex McDonald Studio Matthew Olsen of Staples, left, portrays American negotiator John Honeyman while his father, Kevin Olsen, portrays Soviet diplomat Andrey Botvinnik in a rehearsal for "A Walk in the Woods" before getting into costume and performing the first show Friday evening. The set was designed by Dee Skogen of Hewitt.

A Wadena play director worked with Staples actors when the two towns collaborated for their latest theatrical production, "A Walk in the Woods".

The play, written by Lee Blessing, was performed at Wadena Memorial Auditorium July 15-17 and was scheduled for performances at the Staples Centennial Auditorium July 19-21, with the last performance today at 7:30 p.m.

The performance was directed by Don Hoffman, president of the Madhatters theatre group in Wadena, while acting talent was contributed by Kevin and Matthew Olsen, a father and son from Staples and its Lamplighter Community Theatre.

Hoffman said Matthew gave him 10 or 15 scripts to read, and when he got through "A Walk in the Woods", he decided he really liked it.

Stage Manager Michael Rohr, setting up between performances on Wednesday, said he and the director and actors were at a concert one day, and they asked him to get involved.

"I've known them for a long time," he said.

Rohr said the stage setup was completely different from anything he had been involved with.

The play portrays behind the scenes conversations during 1980s negotiations between the United States and the U.S.S.R., and the audience was accordingly seated backstage with the set faced away from rather than in front of the auditorium in both Wadena and Staples.

The Russian, Andrey Botvinnik (Kevin), is older and more cynical of the negotiation process. The American, John Honeyman (Matthew), is more idealistic and determined to take the process seriously and make it work.

Hoffman said the July 15 performance in Wadena had about 70 people in attendance, July 16 had about 40 and July 17 had about 65.

Hoffman has been involved with the community theater organization since the 1980s, but this is his first time directing.

"It was finally your turn to be artistic," Producer Deb Fitzsimmons recalled saying to Hoffman.

Fitzsimmons had collaborated with Hoffman on Madhatters shows for many years, and Hoffman asked her to be the producer for "A Walk in the Woods".

Hoffman said directing was a wonderful experience, and the actors were very experienced and knew what to do.

He also said the tone of the entire show can be changed by the actors' delivery of certain lines, and there is room for variation.

"There's lots of ways to do the same thing," he said.