On Jan. 27 and 28, two talented Saint Leo students delivered one of the most powerful performances seen since the opening of the Black Box Theater. Sam Stokes, a senior and history major, and Richard Ocampo, a sophomore dramaturgy major, starred in Lee Blessing’s iconic play “A Walk in the Woods,” a production that’s been a long time coming.
The decision to perform this beloved play was a collaborative decision between Stokes and Alicia Corts, the assistant professor of theater.
“When we were in acting class in fall of 2015, his final scene was from ‘A Walk in the Woods.’ We chose it together, and we raised the stakes by saying ‘if you do this scene really well, then we’ll do this as your show. We’ll do this as your senior showcase,’” Corts said.
“A Walk in the Woods” tells the story of two arms negotiators who take the discussion away from the negotiation table and into the woods of Geneva, Switzerland. In the midst of wartime talk, Russian Andrey Botvinnik and American John Honeyman develop a unique and powerful friendship.
Stokes was no stranger to the role of Botvinnik, but for Ocampo, such a dramatic play and the role of Honeyman were a step in a new direction.
“I think that it was a big step forward out of my comfort zone. I like comedic roles, and this one was much more serious. I’m starting to play those serious roles much better now,” Ocampo said.
Both Stokes and Ocampo were very confident in their respective performances and proud of the hard work that went into bringing their characters to life.
“I feel like I did great! This is the first time I’ve ever been able to do an accent on stage, and I was able to hold my Russian accent throughout the entire play. It was so new and so refreshing; I felt like I was a different person. It was amazing!” Stokes said in his well-rehearsed Russian accent.
Much like Andre Botvinnik and John Honeyman, Sam Stokes and Richard Ocampo developed a stronger relationship by working together. The strong friendship that grew between these two young men is reflected in their emotional and genuine renderings.
“Before this, Sam and I didn’t know each other that well. We’d worked together in ‘A Murder is Announced,’ but all he did in that was interrogate me and yell at me, and my response was to run away and shut the door. But after this, we became very good friends,” said Ocampo.
“We’re bros!” Stokes said.
Though the show was a rousing success, it was not without its complications. Due to serious medical complications that befell Stokes last semester, the duo’s rehearsal time was extremely limited. Because of this, Stokes and Ocampo spent much of the second act with their script in their hands. Corts described the show as, paraphrasing a line from the play: “A failure, but a successful one.”
As a first time assistant director, Lois Martinez, a junior dramaturgy and psychology double major, had a lot to say about the production. “My hopes for this show were not really high. The actors were not off-book, so I had no idea how this was going to end. But I trusted that they were good actors and that they were going to do their best, and they proved me wrong. They did a wonderful job and I’m very proud of them.”
With or without the scripts, Stokes and Ocampo wowed the audience that night.
“I think their acting is stupendous,” said Corts. “Some of the moments in this show were the best that I’ve directed at Saint Leo so far.”
Both Stokes and Ocampo are hoping to return to the stage in Saint Leo’s next big production, the musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Putnam will be the first musical performed in the newly constructed Black Box Theater, as well as the first musical that Corts will direct since beginning her career at Saint Leo.
Putnam is expected to run for the first two weekends in April. Corts also promises that the drama department will be producing a musical every year and all aspiring actors and actresses are encouraged to audition.