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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Camp David
Arena Stage

Also see Susan's reviews of The Thousandth Night and Arguendo


Khaled Nabawy, Richard Thomas and Ron Rifkin
A gala affair in Washington has a different flavor from one in New York City or Hollywood. The notables who walked a literal red carpet for the opening performance of Camp David, the world premiere now at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater, came from the political and media worlds, including both Nancy Pelosi and Chris Matthews. Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn were greeted with a standing ovation as they took their seats, and they—along with Jehan Sadat, widow of late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat—joined the cast onstage following the curtain call.

The historical record tells how Carter brought together Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David, the presidential retreat, in the fall of 1978 to hammer out a peace accord, and how the effort succeeded after 13 intense days. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Lawrence Wright has crafted a human-scale drama showing how the three statesmen—and Rosalynn Carter, serving as comforter and sounding board—overcame distrust and longstanding animosities to reach a solution. Director Molly Smith's solid, grounded direction incorporates many moments of insight and beauty, well played by an ideal four-member cast.

The basis of Wright's vision is the centrality of religion to the lives of the three partners. One scene lays out the similarities and differences without hitting the audience over the head: Sadat (Khaled Nabawy) unrolls a prayer rug and begins his devotions in Arabic; Begin (Ron Rifkin) walks onstage reciting from a Hebrew prayerbook; and Carter (Richard Thomas) steps into the foreground and asks God for guidance.

How is Camp David as a play rather than an event? Sometimes the dramatic action gets bogged down in all the talk, but at the same time the audience cannot understand what's going on without hearing the different perspectives and attitudes. The questions of what constitutes terrorism as opposed to rightful force against an oppressor; the need to balance the concerns of the past with hopes for the future; the understanding that things must get better or they will undoubtedly get worse: these are the stakes here, and Wright lets no one forget that.

The actors could not be better: Thomas combines Carter's trademark affability with an underlying uncertainty and exasperation; as Begin, Rifkin shows the wounds underneath his rigid exterior; Nabawy conveys both Sadat's confidence and the doubts he has to face; and Hallie Foote presents Rosalynn as always gracious but tough when she needs to be.

Walt Spangler's scenic design incorporates interiors and exteriors into a compact space, while Jeff Sugg's vast projections suggest the seeming impossibility of peace between Israel and Egypt.

Arena Stage
Camp David
March 21st - May 4th
By Lawrence Wright
Jimmy Carter: Richard Thomas
Rosalynn Carter: Hallie Foote
Anwar Sadat: Khaled Nabawy
Menachem Begin: Ron Rifkin
Marines: Will Beckstrom, Will Hayes
Directed by Molly Smith
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW Washington, DC Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Teresa Wood


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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