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Regional Reviews: San Diego

Camp David
The Old Globe
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Hollywood

Richard Thomas, Ned Eisenberg, and Khaled Nabawy
Photo by Jim Cox
The decade of the 1970s was a turbulent time, particularly in the U.S. but around the world as well. President Richard Nixon resigned rather than face nearly certain conviction following his impeachment. Vice President Gerald Ford tried to restore normalcy, but economic pressures following the abrupt end of the war in Vietnam led to uncontrolled inflation combined with high interest rates, creating a recession. Ford was challenged by Ronald Reagan in his bid for a full four-year term, and Ford narrowly won nomination at the Republican convention. The Democrats fielded a large pool of possible candidates, and Jimmy Carter, a former governor of Georgia, surprised many by emerging from the pack to win the nomination as a political outsider. Neither party was entirely happy with its nominee, but Carter was able to parlay public distaste for the scandals of the Nixon era to win a narrow victory.

Economic and political problems persisted and Carter, a micro-manager, appeared to be overwhelmed by them. The woes were most dramatically portrayed by gasoline shortages, leaving many stranded. Ongoing war in the Middle East was partially to blame for the shortages, and Carter turned to his first love, peacemaking, as a way to resolve the crisis. In a bold move, he invited Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin to join him at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains, to negotiate a framework for peace.

That the two Middle Eastern leaders eventually succeeded is well-known. How they got there is less so, and here is where former New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright steps in. Wright's play Camp David provides a plausible and compelling account of the thirteen days Begin (Ned Eisenberg) and Sadat (Khaled Nabawy) spent in the mountains with Jimmy (Richard Thomas) and Rosalynn (Hallie Foote) Carter.

The play focuses on the character of each of the three men involved in the negotiations (Rosalynn Carter plays a crucial, albeit secondary, role as a sounding board for her husband). Sadat is energetic and comes with specific proposals for discussion. Begin is formal and reserved, as well as ready to reject any provision that he thinks might make Israel less secure. Begin is also confident that the United States' past support of Israel will allow him to dictate the ultimate terms of any agreement.

Interestingly, all three men are driven by their respective faiths. Each is sincere in his beliefs, but perhaps Carter is the most driven by his understanding of the Christian principle of loving one's enemies.

Predictably, Sadat and Begin come to an impasse, not only on policy but personally. Not so predictably, a turning point comes when Carter takes them to the site of Pickett's Charge on the nearby Gettysburg battlefield. An appreciation both for fighting on in the face of sure defeat and for Abraham Lincoln's timeless articulation of American values in the Gettysburg Address provide an opportunity for catharsis.

All three men would suffer politically for their actions (just how much is detailed in a "what happened next" crawl displayed after the curtain call), but all three would also receive acclaim in the form of the Nobel Peace Prize (Sadat and Begin shared theirs; Carter's wouldn't come until 2002). They would also gain the satisfaction of knowing that the accords stopped the fighting between Israel and Egypt, and that fighting did not resume.

Camp David was originally developed at Arena Stage in Washington, D. C., and it was helmed there by artistic director Mollie Smith. Ms. Smith also directs the Old Globe production, and three of the four actors originated their performances in Washington (Mr. Eisenberg is new). Ms. Smith never lets the pace drag, despite a two-hour, no-intermission, run time. She's aided by a high quality design team: Walt Spangler, scenic design; Paul Tazewell, costume design; David Van Tieghem, original music and sound design; Jeff Sugg, projection design; and especially Pat Collins, lighting design.

All of the actors play public figures, and their performances suggest, rather than imitate. Mr. Thomas doesn't particularly look or sound like President Carter, but he captures the man's spirit. Ms. Foote modulates the Texas accent she's used in plays by her father, Horton Foote, and in the process turns in a savvy look at the woman who held everything together when the going got rough. Mr. Nabawy makes Sadat a good-looking, confident leader, though he is less convincing as one who is frustrated. Mr. Eisenberg might be a little too stiff-necked as Begin, but perhaps he's providing an accurate portrayal.

These are all minor quibbles, though. Audiences interested in the details of a key point in the Middle East war will find Camp David entirely satisfying.

Performs through June 19, 2016, Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, and Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, with matinees at 2pm most Saturdays and Sundays. The Old Globe is located in San Diego's Balboa Park. Parking is available throughout the park, but patrons may need to walk some distance to the theatre; disabled and valet parking options are available - check with the theatre for details. Tickets are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting

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