There is a poignant moment in your life when you realize that what to you are memories are in fact significant historical events of sufficient age and import to merit being memorialized, in this case, in the form of a play. Then you realize that there are people in the audience watching the play to whom the subject matter is entirely new…they weren’t even born…then you realize these people aren’t even terribly young…they can drink and everything! Sigh.
But I digress, or in the case of this play regress, back to 1978 and the events that lead to the historic signing of the Camp David Accords, an event I distinctly recall, in that 1970’s grainy non-techni-color way, watching on TV. The play, commission by Arena Stage, attempts to recreate the political, religious, cultural, socioeconomic and personal and emotional hurdles that had to be overcome to win this small but historically significant foothold for peace.
One of the things that’s really cool about this play is that it brand new, never been seen before and is so fresh that the ink is barely dry. It is so new that when I saw it they were still adding scenes and dialog to the show. It is so new that they were still working out Jimmy Carter’s hair (devils in the details after all.) The play is billed at 90 minutes (no intermission) but it was closer to two hours. Not that I minded.
The short review is, I enjoyed the paly; it is a good balance between intellect, drama and humor. Perhaps a little too well balanced between the three? It seemed like every deep dramatic moment had almost a 1 for 1 humorous break, which has primarily Rosalyn’s role in the play. Serving tea and chiding the men that “Making peace, it’s such hard work.” Or “That’s what happens when you leave Billy in charge of the farm.” Not to belittle her character, you do get a sense that she really did act as a touch stone for Jimmy in all parts of life.
The author, Lawrence Wright, is a journalist, which I think was good, because if you’re going to write a play about people who are still alive and can correct your work, you want to have your facts straight. What I really took away from the play was that this was a very personal mission for Jimmy Carter and was accomplished by sheer force of will. The other players in the process, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin arrive clearly viewing this as a futile effort, a pro-forma attempt at peace. The former came with a proposal so outlandish it would be rejected out of hand and the latter came with nothing all. Both were there simply because, you don’t say no to the President when an invitation like this is issued. There’s a great joke (which I hope is true) told in the play that involves calling God and America, which highlights the perception of American power in the world. It doesn’t work out of context; you’ll have to go see the play. There’s also a prescient moment in the play where Sadat casually noted that if he’s going to be killed it will not be for “half measures.” In making this peace Sadat did in effect sign his own death warrant.
The actors were all really great; this is a Broadway caliber cast and it shows. Richard Thomas does a pretty good Jimmy Carter, although I think his southern drawl tended to veer into Clinton territory pretty regularly. Hallie Foote (daughter of playwright Horton Foote) is about perfect as Rosalyn. The cast is rounded out with Ron Rifkin as Begin and Khaled Nabawy as Sadat and both are excellent. I like that they cast actors from all the faiths that the play portrays, I think it adds depth to the performances. The cultural and religious conflicts represented in the play haven’t changed much in 35 years. There’s a great scene in the play that starts with Sadat praying and segues to Begin praying, then Carter; it highlighted for me that as the Muslim Sabbath ends the Jewish Sabbath is beginning and as the Jewish Sabbath ends the Christian begins.
Special kudos has to go to the make-up artist that transformed the prototypical tall dark and handsome, modern Omar Sharif (he’s actually a big star in Egypt) Mr. Nabawy into Anwar Sadat. That’s quite a transformation, really!
Finally little shout-out to the set design. The woods of Camp David are represented by large tree trunks that are raised and lowered to create the different setting. It’s a not so subtle metaphor for these men trying to find their way out of the woods and into a meaningful peace. At least I assume that was intentional.
The show was interesting enough that I’m tempted to see it again just to see how it’s changed. Because, really I’m not seeing enough theater right now. It plays through May 4th at Arena Stage.