Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's reviews of The Thousandth Night and Arguendo
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 statesmenand Rosalynn Carter, serving as comforter and sounding boardovercame 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.