It’s not often we get to go back in history to experience notable events as they happened, but through the magic of great theater, an opportunity is possible with The Old Globe Theatre’s Arena Stage production of “Camp David.” The play explores the 13 days in 1978 that President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin spent together at Camp David (the country retreat of the President of the United States, located in wooded hills about 62 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.) working on the Camp David Accords peace treaty.
It was a stressful time for Carter, his advisors, and his wife, Rosalynn, as they dealt with the two foreign leaders and their disputes. Israel’s occupation of the entire Sinai Peninsula gained in the 1967 Six-Day War, also meant it had possession of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, which was not alright with Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat.
The new play penned by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lawrence Wright and directed by Arena Stage’s artistic director, Molly Smith, wonderfully unfolds this dilemma with a great cast. Richard Thomas portrays Carter. He’s first shown in the Florida woods with his wife Rosalynn (Hallie Foote) as they bicker back and forth about what the President is facing. He sums it up as workable, she says it’s impossible.
Sadat (Khaled Nabawy) saunters in as Carter stands and welcomes him. They are very good friends, and Sadat is anxious about making the treaty. The next day, Begin (Ned Eisenberg) arrives. They learn he has no plan, but is ready to listen to offers. For days, they argue back and forth with Rosalynn – hearing the heated conversations – occasionally stopping by with refreshments or blurting out a word of advice. One day after another goes by as the trio discuss faith, history and peace. But no one seems to be on the same page.
The set design by Walt Spangler, production design by Jeff Sugg, and lighting by Pat Collins, draws-in audience members as if they are sitting in the middle of the action. Watching Thomas wheel in and out of the scenes in the golf cart brings laughs several times during the performance.
Considering the huge amount of dialogue they had to learn and remember, all four actors are convincing in their roles and keep the audience’s attention throughout. Thomas never stalls in his challenges to his guests, occasionally he’s very direct, other times wallowing in slight despair. Foote is sensational in portraying Rosalynn’s efforts to keep him on target or offer words of compassion. History has noted that Rosalynn had a lot to do with the outcome of this event.
Nabawy settles into his character quite well. Sadat knows what he needs to get before signing the agreement, but after so many days, anyone would be ready to throw their hands up in the air and leave. Carter challenges Begin over and over again about his refusals to sign a peace treaty, and one would think the real Begin was on stage as Eisenberg serves the role well, stating over and over again that he’s leaving and not signing the treaty.
Director Smith does a super job in staging the production. “Camp David” is a great play to see, to experience the incredible talents at The Old Globe and the actors in this play.
IF YOU GO: “Camp David” runs through June 19, 2016 at The Old Globe Theatre’s Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $29. (619) 234-5623. theoldglobe.org