REVIEW: Camp David Brings History to Life

Camp David Receives a Standing Ovation from Old Globe Crowd

Photos by The Old Globe

"God has purposefully sent him here to piss me off!" So exclaims Richard Thomas's Jimmy Carter about Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Indeed, it seemed throughout most of The Old Globe production of Camp David that the three prominent world leaders meeting to theoretically discuss peace in the Middle East would rather bicker and fight than actually negotiate a treaty. Yet somehow, after thirteen days of tense discussions and staunch resolves, a peace treaty was reached, one that (theoretically) ended conflict between Egypt and Israel.

Written by Lawrence Wright, Camp David tells the tale of the infamous Camp David Accords, in which Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat attended Camp David in Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland at President Jimmy Carter's request. There, a tentative peace was negotiated by both sides and a treaty was signed on September 17th, 1978. It's a bright spot of American history that's often overlooked or forgotten (especially given the current turmoil in the Middle East) but Wright's play shines a light on the struggle for peace and the hope for a better world.

Directed by Molly Smith, Camp David does a remarkable job of turning a large-scale historical event into a deeply personal narrative about national pride, religion, and hope. The production stars Emmy award-winning actor Richard Thomas as the stunningly optimistic President Jimmy Carter. As Carter's presidency and financial affairs teeter on the brink of disaster, Thomas exudes an enduring amount of hope and passion for peace--no matter how much the negotiations around him break down, he never gives up the fight for peace.

Richard Thomas Camp David

Acting opposite Thomas is Ned Eisenberg as Menachem Begin, a man who plays his cards close to the chest and is driven by a strong need to protect his people. Begin is the initial obstacle to peace in the Camp David Accords, arriving at the table with neither demands nor plans to acquiesce to Egypt. Over the course of Camp David, Eisenberg turns this secretive, unyielding man into an advocate for his country with a deeply layered performance. Anwar Sadat (Khaled Nabawy), on the other hand, enters the negotiations with a lofty list of requirements and a jovial devil-may-care attitude towards the entire proceedings. 

Camp David does a fantastic job of balancing the dark historical reality with moments of light humor through First Lady Rosalynn Carter (Hallie Foote). Though initially skeptical of her husband's desire for peace, Rosalynn nevertheless fights to keep her husband's dream alive. Foote gives a particularly memorable performance, displaying Rosie's simultaneously manipulative yet sweet relationship with both Sadat and Begin. With a crafty nature and a stunning amount of cunning, Foote's Rosalynn diffuses even the tensest of situations.

In regards to the overall production of Camp David, once again The Old Globe didn't disappoint. The scenic design for this production was crafted by Walt Spangler, whose versatile and mobile sets allowed for easy transitions between locations. Pat Collins's lighting was bright and often luminous, just as Carter's disposition was in the early scenes of Camp David.

The Old Globe Camp David

This production made great use of David Van Tieghem's sound effects, from the whirling hum of a helicopter to rain and thunder. The costumes, designed by Paul Tazewell felt natural and transported audiences right back to the late 1970s. What made Camp David stand out as a historical drama, however, was the usage of actual archived news footage from September of 1978. The projections, designed by Jeff Sugg, grounded the production in history and culture by connecting the Camp David Accords to the hearts and heads of American citizens. If there's one flaw in Sugg's projection design, it's that the historical aftermath is only shared with the audience after the curtain call--as guests and attendees are already primed to leave.

Camp David was originally performed on the Arena Stage in Washington DC. It will be running at The Old Globe through June 19th. Tickets are going fast, so don't miss out! Open the door to history and enjoy an oft-forgotten look at the Jimmy Carter era!