Politico and Foreign Policy Chime In with Theater Reviews! “Camp David” Expands DC Examination of Arab-Israeli Conflict on Stage

from Politico

Jimmy Carter raves over Camp David playKhaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat (left) Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter (center) and Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin perform in

The play focuses on the Carters and the Camp David Accords. | Teresa Wood

For the premiere of the Arena Stage’s “Camp David” on Thursday night, it was former President Jimmy Carter who received multiple standing ovations for what he called, “a really emotional experience.”

The president, along with his wife, Rosalynn, were among those in the audience for the Washington theater’s new production. The play focuses on the Carters, as well as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the 13-day negotiations during September 1978 that led to the Camp David Accords.

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from Foreign Policy in Focus

Asking the Hard Questions about Israel

motti-lerner-admission-israel-zionism-nakba-palestinians

30 thoughts on “Politico and Foreign Policy Chime In with Theater Reviews! “Camp David” Expands DC Examination of Arab-Israeli Conflict on Stage

  1. What drew me into “Camp David” was how real, emotional, and authentic the characters were. Through their conversations and monologues, the actors did a wonderful job of showing the intensity of the negotiations and the difficulties of handling the conflicting emotions and interests involved. The exchanges were obvious enough to be theatrical – Rosalynn coming in at points of high tension to remind her husband, Sadat, and Menachem what they are there to do, offering comic relief from the arguments – but also emotional, reflective enough to seem authentic – the scene where Carter, Sadat, and Menachem are all praying to their own gods for guidance.

    Seeing the personal side of each leader offers a new lens for understanding these negotiations that resulted in the Camp David Accords, and even negotiations in general. Often, I have viewed the process for most international agreements as cold, calculated, strict, rational. However, “Camp David” shows that behind an agreement there are leaders who have personal histories, emotions, biases, hopes, motivations. When these conflict, it leads to the difficulties that we saw in the play, with both Sadat and Menachem getting so frustrated at points that they were going to leave without any agreement. What brings them back to focus is the thought of the future, their children, their grandchildren. Despite disagreement on many issues, they agree that ensuring the future of their people is a main motivation for peace. This is shown specifically in an emotional ending with Menachem agreeing to sign when Carter reminds him of his grandchildren.

    Sacrificing any part of their demands was difficult for both leaders, but when the benefits are considered, they were able to do so. Still, we see how exhausting the process is, in that just one part – such as Carter’s letter declaring U.S. policy on Jerusalem, that Menachem did not even have to sign – can break the whole deal. Bringing both leaders into agreement was trying, and the play shows this well with all of the emotions and politics involved.

    • I agree with you completely. The actors brought the characters to life in such a unique way. I believe this had something to do with the fact that Sedat and Begin weren’t just negotiating for their country at Camp David, they were also juggling their own personal narratives. Prime Minister Begin had his family’s past and his children’s future in mind when he was deciding whether or not to sign the Camp David Accords. President Sedat sought to find the balance between past transgressions against his community while trying to prevent his grandson from becoming a martyr. But, as I wrote in my blog post, the actor playing Begin wasn’t just acting emotional while looking through the photos of his grandchildren. He shed real tears that continued through the standing ovation the cast received. These two actors also held stories and motivations, remembrance of past offenses with hopes for a better future, which is what makes these characters so believable and real. The emotions expressed by Sedat and Begin during the play is authentic to both the characters as well as the actors. It was fascinating to watch the actors leave a piece of themselves on the stage.

    • Bridget, I too was struck by the role of a higher spiritual power in “Camp David” This factor highlighted two important facts- the importance of spirituality to President Carter as a former Sunday School teacher as well as the central importance of religion, both Judaisim and Islam to the two leaders and their respective nations. also there was solace to be found in the play’s portrayal of the importance of moderation on the part of both the leaders to forgo both their opposed religious traditions and military histories in pursuit of the more universal goal of peace.

      Also, I too was impacted by the play’s use of personal appeal to have Prime Minister Begin agree to a peace agreement was also profound. President Sadat’s forewarning to Begin about his grandson’s goal of being a martyr reinforced the importance of negotiating with Sadat as he truly had a desire for peace and future Egyptian leaders may not have a similar desire and that this negotiation was likely the best chance at achieving peace between Israel and Egypt and potentially allowing for future peace agreements between Israel and other nations. Further, President Carter’s use of personal appeal to Prime Minister Begin with photographs to give to his grandchildren appealed to Begin’s desire for his grandchildren to live in a time where Israel and Egypt would no longer be in a state of perpetual war. At the play’s conclusion with Begin’s signing of the Camp David Accords, it was clear that these emotional appeals were effective at leading Prime Minister Begin to cement his legacy with President Sadat as a peacemaker and sign the Camp David Accord.

  2. Camp David is my favorite play we have seen for class this semester. It struck the perfect balance between entertainment and political commentary. There were a lot of great aspects of the performance, but I am going to focus on a few of the smaller ones.

    The free passage aspect of the compromise was interesting; Israelis had free passage from the mainland to the Sinai Peninsula. I have learned through my internship this semester about the intricacies (ha) of diplomatic passports. There are several countries in the Middle East that will deny a person entry if they have an Israeli visa in their passport book. Egypt is one of these countries. This isn’t a profound realization or anything like that, but it was an interesting contrast to the end of the play for me. There was a lot of hope and promise about the state of Israeli and Egyptian bilateral relations at the end of the summit, but it was not by any means a complete solution. Change with any kind of international relations takes decades for a nation to internalize. When Egypt had its democratic revolution a few years ago, there was concern over what that would mean for the state of the relations between the two countries. Egypt has been grounds for stability in the region since the Camp David accords. The play was a great reminder about how this relationship was initially implemented.

    My other personal observation about the play is much more surface-level. The Jimmy Carter in the play did not make me think of the Jimmy Carter I have studied. He started off as a Ronald Reagan-esque personality, but transitioned to how I remember George W. Bush. He was an easygoing personality combined with a bit of southern charm. The whole reason the talks did not collapse was thanks in no small part to his personality. Both the Israeli Prime Minister and the Egyptian President were classically stiff political figures. President Carter has dressed in a flannel button-down with jeans – more appropriate for a day on the ranch than bilateral peace talks. And yet, this was the only reason everything seemed to work out. A mediator sometimes needs to be in direct contrast to the people they are mediating – think Morgan Freeman mediating a debate between Ann Coulter and Nancy Grace.

    Overall, I thought this play was well written, acted, and directed. I thought the production design was great as well. The opening and closing trap door of the stage allowed for a more dynamic set. I only had one question: why weren’t some of the trees touching the ground?!

  3. The first thing I’d like to note in this blog post is just how unique the experience of seeing theater alone is. Before this week, I do not know if I have even seen a show by myself. Always, I have been with at least one, friend, family member or classmate. However, this week, due to a scheduling conflict on Friday night, I saw Camp David on Tuesday evening instead. Alone. It was truly interesting.
    I bring this up because it reminds me of some previous conversations we have had in class – notably about what makes theater unique. For example, why is live-theater different than watching a movie? This is a question that actually came up during class on April 3rd, when Michelle asked why movies about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are less controversial than plays of the same topic. Our answers to questions like this have often included commentary about the intimacy that accompanies seeing a show with a live audience surrounding you. I think I was ultra-sensitive to this crowd while seeing the show alone.
    With regard to Camp David specifically, I thought it was a fantastic show. Definitely in the top-2 for the semester for my favorite shows, alongside Tribes. I thought the play tackled a well-known historical event and created a very deep story around it that would not have been possible to learn in a history class. This proved an important point: Peace cannot be achieved through political strategy alone.
    Peace is an accomplishment that can only come after deep emotional and spiritual hurdles are crossed. This play actually reminded me a lot of a class I took last semester at Carnegie Mellon, called Intergroup Conflict. The class discussed scientific ways to help resolving long-standing, heated conflicts. One study, called Sherif and the Robber’s Cave, showed that some form of community must be felt between the two groups before they can resolve the conflict. Essentially, Sherif split a group of young boys at a summer camp into two groups – the Eagles and the Rattlers – and then forced them into a series of competition against one another. The groups began to resent each other, and the only way that they could resolve these feelings was to force the two groups to cooperate together to achieve a mutual goal. Feeling this sense of community and mutual need was essential.
    We saw this in Camp David. One scene was where the two leaders are bonding over their shared experiences in prison. Another issue that further aided the cause of peace was the love the men had for their families. As I said earlier, peace goes so much deeper than strategy. You need to bare your soul to achieve peace.

    • I completely agree with you that a sense of community is needed to truly overcome this deep-set kind of conflict. I think it goes even deeper than that, though, because this peace was not achieved by groups of people; in fact, we saw that Sadat was nearly assassinated by his own delegation for negotiating (and was, in fact, assassinated thereafter). I think, in addition to a sense of community, this kind of negotiation really depends upon the individuals. It’s incredible the degree to which the personality of a major leader can make or break diplomatic negotiations and relationships. I think one difficult thing with the current conflict is we’ve seen so much personal friction between Netanyahu and President Obama. It seems to me that you have to develop some sort of personal rapport and trust for this to work. It the play, it wasn’t until the connection forged by the pictures for Begin’s grandchildren that everything finally came together.

    • Megan, I think it is interesting when you say that this experience for you was unique because you attended the show alone. I have never felt like my theater-going experiences have been different, or even hindered, while being accompanied by classmates, friends, or family. I have always sort of zoned out and focused on the play, ignoring the audience. Each play has been an encounter between the actors and myself. Only when the show ends do I snap back into being a member of the audience and spark discussion with whom I am with. Maybe I should try going to a show alone to see if I have the same experience as you did with Camp David.

      I also think that your statement that peace cannot be achieved through political strategy alone is wise. The play portrayed this well in the two scenes you mentioned. In addition, I feel that the relationship between Mrs. Carter and the President expressed this as well. If it was not for Mrs. Carter, the President may have become discouraged during the intense peace talks and given up. However, I feel that Mrs. Carter indirectly affected the success of the talks and maybe the moral of their relationship is that you cannot bear conflict or stress alone.

  4. Coming out of Camp David, I had to properly sort out my thoughts. I felt compelled to discuss with someone what I had just experienced unlike any show before. I was not very knowledgeable before this semester concerning the conflict in the Middle East. I had to remind myself of this during the entire show. I just could not wrap my head around a lot of the play. It was hard for me to relate to the situation. The only thing I left the play with was frustration. To me, it seemed like both sides were acting immature, especially the Israeli President. However, I had to step back and remind myself that this was a different time. These men were both trying to protect their people who have long histories in the region.

    The frustration that came over me was only countered by the relieving humor and appropriate timing of Mrs. Carter. She came across as smart and thoughtful. Her continued support, and sometimes critique, of the peace talks left me with the same opinions and hope. Mrs. Carter left me with more hope than the President. She was a clear level head in the heated discussions on peace.

    Ultimately, I did not like the show. Now this doesn’t mean that I didn’t think it was well done. The set, actors, staging, and overall performance of Camp David were well orchestrated. Even though I didn’t like the show, Camp David taught me more about the conflict in the Middle East than any textbook could.

  5. Habemus Pacem. “We have peace”. When these words were spoken Friday night, there was a sense of shock, exacerbation, and relief. It was a very remarkable ending, one in which the rocky and tense drama of the peacemaking process came full circle to a resolution.

    I want to continue with my theme of uncovering a different dimension throughout the plays we have seen. At first, we see three very dissimilar men, with two of them very strongly disliking the other. They stand apart from one another in this simple dimensional vision. However, throughout the play, we see a new dimension develop, unfolding messily and slowly in front of our eyes. We see the men go from very different positions and the hostility involved with that, to a place of sameness and a level of understanding that we would never expect from the three men sitting so separately and independently at the beginning. They move from powerful, stubborn politicians in our eyes, to more personal figures such as friends, grandfathers, and leaders who altruistically want the best for their countries and for the world. The first dimension we see is one of difference. At the end of the play, we see sameness and a shared identity as humans.

    I also believe religion played a big role in the development of the play. Faith emerges with both tinges of unity as well as overt conflict. Religious discord is what brought the three men together to this high pressure, high stakes bargaining table in the first place. At time it seemed like a zero sum game. At the end, though, we see religion as a way in which they can better understand each other, as commitment to one’s faith and betterment of the world is something they all hold in common.

    Last, I think Rosalynn was a key role, and not just because she provided comic relief. She was the glue that kept this fragile triangle of leaders from collapsing and shattering into a million pieces. There were many times throughout the play in which I was frustrated that the leaders were letting their egos get in the way. She was always there to bring everyone back down to earth and was very instrumental in the achievement of an agreement.

    • I find the point on religion very interesting. I do believe there was religious undertones throughout the play. I am not a very religious person, but I do believe that in times of difficulty and conflict, faith and belief in a greater power can help move people towards a better world. It would be interesting to ask the writer and the director of the play about religion and how it either influenced or didn’t influence the play as a whole.

      I agree with you 110 precent on the comic relief. Rosalynn was by far my favorite character and seemed to genuine, smart, and cunning. It was extremely necessary for her to step in and sometimes be the voice of reason.

  6. Watching the performance of Camp David was a great experience. I would like to begin with mentioning that Camp David had the best set out of all the play’s I have seen this semester. The design of each scene was well thought out and detailed, which impacted the effectiveness of this play. I enjoyed the mini-cart prop that was used throughout the stage. The screen that was directly behind the stage also added a cool dynamic to the visual presentation. In addition I liked the prop that went down under the stage, I have only seen this elaborate set design from plays on Broadway. I found this play to be captivating because it covered a topic that was fairly new to me. I have heard this term “peace in the Middle East” countless times throughout history. However, I did not know where this term originated from and I was unaware of the details of the gathering between President Carter, Anwar Sadat (Egypt’s President), and Menachem Begin (Israel Prime Minister) in an attempt to achieve peace.

    My favorite character in this play, by far, was Rosalynn Carter. She added a unique dynamic to the play. President Carter and the two leaders were heavily caught up in a debate to achieve peace, but Rosalynn added a unique element to the discussion. When conversations got tough, Rosalynn Carter was always there to support her husband; she contributed both humor and practicability to the performance. I wonder how accurate of an interpretation this play is compared to what actually took place. It would be interesting to know what evidence they were relying on to recreate this event. This play illustrates exactly how difficult negotiations are to solve conflicts that are so heavily intertwined in history. The skills that President Carter demonstrated throughout the play would be great for me to have in my personal arsenal of skills.

    Camp David was successful in educating the audience about the Arab- Israeli conflict. Prime Minister Menachem Begin, had a segment were he stated that love and hate go hand and hand; he said something on the lines of, “because we love our country/people, we then hate our enemies”. I think this is a perspective that many individuals unconsciously follow. This play sheds light on how difficult it is to make peace and come up with solutions to conflicts that date back to earlier centuries. I understood previously, that negotiations between nations were complex, but this play helped me develop a newfound appreciation for politicians and officers that are involved in these talks. This play made me think about the current discussions in Syria and how difficult it has been to achieve peace. I also enjoyed that the play went straight through without any intermission. I think that the play benefitted from going straight through.

    This play sparked my interests; following the play, I began researching the details of this meeting that was discussed in Camp David. I would also like to mention the three different faiths that each political leader had (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). I enjoyed the scenes where each prayed to their gods and it showed a dynamic contrast between the leaders. Religious faith played a large role in this play; it was interesting to see how those ideals were similar and/or clashed. Although they practiced three different religions they all had strong faiths, which helped them to find a productive solution. Lastly, Camp David is a great piece of art; I mostly enjoyed the elaborate set, the detailed props, the subject matter of the play, and the acting of Rosalynn Carter. I would recommend this play to other theatregoers; it sheds light on conflict in the Middle East, it also illustrates how difficult the process of negotiation is and the struggles of attempting to reach a state of peace between nations.

    • Latif – I definitely agree with you when you say that Rosalynn Carter was one of the best parts of the play. She added a much needed element to Camp David – a lighthearted practicality. Peace negotiations are tough. Often, the scenes between Carter, Begin, and Sadat were very tense, as you note. Rosalynn Carter’s role in these scenes often added a much needed element of humor, like when she interrupts a screaming fight to offer the men some tea.

      I also appreaciated her role because it depicts the role women have played in politics, even in roles are are not traditionally “political.” When Carter was president in the 1970’s, there were still an exceptionally small number of women in politics. Even today, women make up less than one fourth of Congress. I think it was very profound how the play depicted Rosalynn Carter as someone who was capable of creating political change in her own unique way. Often this involved having heart-to-heart discussions with the leaders about their values and why they want peace, or simply reminding the men of their purpose for gathering at Camp David.

      Like you, I also wonder how realistic this depiction is. Especially since Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter went to a performance last Thursday night! I wonder if they thought that the play accurately displayed both of their roles in influencing the peace negotiations.

  7. “Camp David” had my attention from beginning to end. I liked the fact that there was no intermission—it reflected how the talks dragged on for nearly two weeks without direction. I was skeptical of watching another play that was mainly centered on dialogue, but I was pleased to find there was a good balance of heated debate and reasonable discussion, of conflict and resolution.

    I found the portrayals of each historical figure to be fairly accurate, and especially appreciated Rosalynn Carter’s character. She played a critical role in the play, acting both as a mediator among the leaders and a source of support for Carter. Mrs. Carter helped steer the play away from a two-hour session of three angry, bantering men and toward a meaningful discussion about a remarkable moment in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    At the same time the “Camp David” was funny and maintained a feeling of light-heartedness, it did not underestimate the gravity of the situation and the weight of the responsibility on Carter’s, Begin’s, and Sadat’s shoulders. Clearly the path toward a treaty was not easy for any of the leaders, and the play did well in showing what was at stake for each country, and the process leading up to the agreement.

    The overall tone of the play is hopeful and the message is clear: peace is possible. However, I could not help but feel a little sad after the standing ovation. This play recounts a historical event that occurred almost forty years ago, yet there has been little progress. Can this conflict ever be solved? Will peace ever be reached? These are questions that continue to linger on my mind, but I hope that creating an environment that encourages plays such as “Camp David” will help facilitate discussion in both the United States and abroad.

    • Michelle, I felt the exact same way as you about this play. I really appreciated the overall clarity of the play and its message. I think the play was very clear and the plot was easy to follow, so it allowed the audience to really connect with the characters. Instead of getting somewhat lost in a confusing plot, from the beginning the play has a stated goal. This isn’t to say the play wasn’t complicated or multi-layered. I think it had a large degree of complexity to it, but I really felt like the play had a good solid base which it built off of. I think that might have been what Jimmy Carter was trying to build with the Camp David Accords: a good solid base to build off of.

    • Michelle, I like how you signaled out Rosalynn Carter as your most memorable character. Aside from the marines, which I personally think stole the show, Rosalynn was my favorite. The US has had a wide variety of first ladies but I think every single president would credit their wife with much of their success. She provided a tether to reality in the play, weaving in and out of the plot with perfect timing. President Carter had a southern disposition that allowed him to be a good mediator, but Rosalynn had more of an edge — she knows how to play herself up.

      In my interpretation of the play, she is the only person who was able to keep President Carter going. Granted, this might be because she was the only person around him, but it seemed like the only reason he could get out of bed was because of his wife. It’s a powerful role to have, and seeing it come alive on the stage was truly an experience to watch.

  8. There are not enough words to capture how much I enjoyed “Camp David.” It tremendously presented an intense event in both a humorous and insightful way. It was smart and funny. And even at some points, it was chilling. Within this blog post, there are two points that I would like to touch on: the importance of knowing the Gettysburg Address and the important role of the First Lady.

    First of all, the scene where President Jimmy Carter brings Egyption President Anwar El Sadat, , and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the Gettysburg battlefield was absolutely incredible. Seeing three world leaders come together and unite over President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was inspirational. I loved how each was able to clearly recite the lines, and how they chimed in after each other. This moment shows how influential the United States is worldwide. I got goose bumps. I’m sure everyone at one point in his or her life has had to memorize the Gettysburg Address… I didn’t. Just being a history nerd, I mouthed along and am pretty sure the majority of the audience was doing the same.

    The United States has had a rocky past and is by no means a “perfect” country—as one does not truly exist—but the history represents that change is possible. I thought in this moment, that the world leaders would be able to put the past behind and “לעשות שלום” or make peace. So much of the Gettysburg Address parallels the great battle between Israel and its surrounding Nations. The Israeli-Palelestinian Conflict has gone on for over 2,000 years, 1978 would have been a great time for it to end. But sadly, peace does not come easy, nor will it ever. Israel has been tested time and again, “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”

    Lastly, the role of the First Lady must never go unnoticed. As “Camp David” suggests, the First Lady serves a very important role within the administration. First Lady Rosalynn Carter was by far my favorite character within “Camp David,” her lines was punchy and witty- as her quick line “Audacity” proves.

  9. I really enjoyed seeing Camp David at Arena Stage . I went into the play with historical knowledge of the subject, but this brought life to the textbooks I have read and added another layer to this familiar story. I admired the way the playwright was able to take the outcome of the Camp David peace talks and the associated documents and imagine the dialogue for this play. The writing was both captivating and provided enough information to manage the historical aspects of these talks. I think this was a very tough task to take on, but the playwright obviously did his research and I think it paid off.

    The character development was also phenomenal. The actors playing President Carter and Rosalynn maintained a playful chemistry reminiscent of a long relationship, but each of these actors were also great as stand alone characters. President Carter’s navigation of his relationships with both the Israeli Prime Minister and the Egyptian President felt authentic. Carter struggled to be both a friend and a negotiator, all while trying to find and become the middle ground between these two countries.

    When the actor playing Prime Minister Begin took his bow at the end of the show, he was visibly tearing up and wiping away these tears with a handkerchief. I think this showed how intense this show must have been for everyone involved to produce it. The cultural storylines they had to contend with were not foreign to the actors, playwright, director, etc.

    I got goose bumps during the scene where the three leaders were reciting the Gettysburg Address. I’m a self-proclaimed Civil War junkie, so hearing them speak these words, especially hearing how well they could be applied to the Camp David peace talks, was almost entrancing.

    P.S. I LOVED the trees that came down from the rafters; the set design overall was well done.

    • Katie, I could probably spend this entire comment talking about the trees (I won’t, but I’ll just briefly touch on it). The set design was fabulous and I was really impressed by it. I couldn’t help but catch myself during the performance “oooing” and “ahhing” at the many intricate details of the stage. For example, how cool was it when the chairs came up from beneath the stage? Answer: so cool. It was even cooler when a person came up from beneath the stage.

      I too, got goose bumps during the scene where the three world leaders were reciting the Gettysburg Address. It was both chilling and mesmerizing. My only thought was: did this actually happen in real life? It was incredibly powerful and effective to see the parallel between the Civil War and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict come alive on stage.

    • Katie, I think you raised an excellent point about the character development. As much as the opposing sides would like to condemn their opponents, these leaders are not stock characters. Instead, they are complex individuals that have to balance a wide variety of issues from their personal and national experiences to how their nation will react to their decisions. The actors’ explanations of their struggles was present in the heated and contemplative dialogue. The power in this play’s dialogue comes from its accurate depiction of each of the three leaders strong commitment to their original perception of their needs of peace and commitment to his nation’s agenda as mutually exclusive. As you said, the character development was phenomenal. Further, I think that it was the actor’s successful portrayal of the leader’s realization that these two needs are in fact not mutually exclusive that allowed for this character development.

  10. Camp David was unlike any of the plays we’ve seen this semester.

    It was shorter, for one thing. For another, I thought it stuck to its narrative tenaciously. For many of this semester’s performances, I’ve come away feeling like the playwright wanted me to grasp an idea (and I’ve had varying degrees of success in grasping it). But Camp David was simply storytelling. And in that, I think, were some tremendous ideas to be grasped.

    I thought the various methods of peacemaking that took place in the show were really interesting when contrasted with one another. When the three men sat down together, it soon broke out into shouting and disagreement – but when Mrs. Carter came out with tea and cookies, the men were suddenly shamed by their own inability to accomplish anything. When President Carter threatened Sadat and Begin with a cessation of friendship between the countries, it was effective but only limitedly so. When they talked about family and memories and their own histories, it made much more headway. The role of politics and bickering is incredibly important, I think – we cannot make treaties and laws based solely on emotion – but the play seemed to suggest that our driving forces for these agreements must always come down to our people – loved ones, families, countrymen. Begin was repeatedly criticized for ignoring the wishes of his entire delegation; if peace is what is best for your people, then you had better be working towards that end rather than getting held up in the politics.

    But the thing that really blew me away about Camp David was the production quality. We’ve been to several workshops or pre-opening shows this semester, so I suppose it’s not a fair comparison, but I was truly blown away by the sets and staging of this play. Lighting, sound effects, props – this was a very detailed production, and it showed. I don’t want to say that this style is better or worse than a lot of the bare-bones shows we’ve seen this semester, but it certainly was different and noteworthy. And it worked for this style of play – something so rich in story SHOULD be rich in set, whereas a highly metaphorical play could have a set that leaves much up to the viewer’s imagination.

    • I agree that the sets and effects contributed to the overall quality of the play. From the opening moment, with the music, video, lights, and descending trees from the ceiling, I was mesmerized. In addition, I agree that this play, because it is more of a narrative and not so much metaphorical, should be rich in set. Had it been simple and bare-bones, the excitement would have been largely diminished. The set is what pushed the play from great theater to outstanding theater.

    • Caroline, I hadn’t thought about the fact that “Camp David” is unique in that it is the one play this semester that has focused on storytelling, on being a narrative of historical events that have actually occurred. Other plays – “Our Suburb,” “Yellow Face,” “The Admission,” etc. – may incorporate some historical events, but the characters and exchanges are made up to convey a message. It’s exciting that the play was still able to have such an impact when simply portraying history, although in a theatrical way, and I agree that it presented tremendous ideas through that.

      Also, I appreciated how you many others have talked about Mrs. Carter. She was my favorite character, and I wish that more plays included strong, or at least influential, female roles like hers. Having a woman like her in a protagonist position would be ideal, and although she isn’t, she still shows how women can contribute different and important perspectives, and how these should be valued.

    • I agree with you that Camp David was a lot shorter than many of the other plays we have seen this semester. I think it was wise choices by the playwright to have the play go straight through versus having an intermission period. This decision, helped increase the tension and it did not drag the plot on much longer than they needed to, which was great. In addition, I like your point that the play stuck to its original narrative. Plays usually have several conflicts that are not strongly related, but Camp David did a wonderful job at focusing on their compelling narrative. The story-line of this play was an inherent strength and the playwright approached that aspect very strategically.

      Although all three of these leaders were from different countries, they each shared a core group of values. All of these leaders had a strong responsibility to their country; each had strong religious values ties and love for their families. These core values helped these leaders to reach an agreement. Many times during the play, these leaders were caught up in their ideological beliefs and differences. Mrs. Carter played an intricate role in bringing the leaders together, added a great deal of humor, and kept her husband optimistic about the situation. Lastly, I also thought the production of this play was amazing! After watching The Admission (which had few props because it was a workshop), I was pleased to see how visually aesthetic Camp David proved to be. This play had the best set and props of any other play I have seen this semester and I think the production plays a key role in how the performance was perceived by the audience.

  11. I generally agree with John Feffer’s analysis of the Admission, but I would offer some exception to his analysis of the Jewish communities’ organizations. He likens COPMA to AIPAC without any justification or proof that the two have the same views. Likewise, I believe that overvalued the controversy within the Jewish community over such issues as BDS.

    Concerning Camp David, this play was an excellent adaptation of the peace summit. The dialogue perfectly encapsulated the narratives of the sides and the struggle to create peace while recognizing the existence of these narratives. It took a very neutral stance on the conference with President Carter showing his frustration and admiration with both nations’ leaders. For anyone interested in the conflict or peace negotiations, this play was probably very interesting. One of the interesting points that I think the Camp David process and the play showed is that despite the various narratives, the sides can find the room to make agreements. With the right wording (and proper arm twisting) the sides can create solutions that either ignore the narrative differences or make the sides yield one desired end to achieve another. In fact, it wasn’t until Sadat and Begin decided to discuss just the tactically solvable issues of Sinai that peace at Camp David became possible. When discussing the Palestinian issues, both sides only discussed their narrative; therefore, this issue did not become solvable. Through asides of prayer, this play did an excellent job exposing President Carter’s mindset as he tried to reconcile these leader’s strong desires and narratives.

    Lastly, First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s role in this play cannot be overstated. Without her hilarious interruptions to the heated dialogue between the three leaders, this play would be nothing more than a history lesson from which the audience would be unengaged. Instead, her interruptions give the audience the comic relief that is a great parallel to the serious issues being discussed.

  12. The same day that I went to see Camp David at Arena Stage, I’d had the opportunity to meet with the ambassador of the PLO delegation to the United States with the other interns in my office. We got to talk with him for the better part of an hour about the Arab-Israeli conflict and where it currently stands. It was amazing to go see Camp David only a few hours after talking with him, because the language and the issues are so much the same now as they are then.

    Camp David was, in my reading, the story of a few immensely prideful but also immensely courageous individuals who were able to do something that most of the world thought impossible. In a region that had been in conflict for thousands of years, these people were able to forge an imperfect, but lasting, peace.

    This play does an incredible job of unpacking the personalities and stories behind one of the greatest victories of modern diplomacy. All four of the characters—President Carter, Mrs. Carter, President Sadat, and Prime Minister Begin—are played with wit, imperfection, and a great amount of heart. I was particularly impressed with the depiction of Mrs. Carter as such a force to be reckoned with, entirely aware of what was occurring in the negotiations and able to encourage and challenge the men in a way that I don’t think they could do for each other. The three world leaders are stubborn and proud, but the play also explores the reasons they are the way they are. One of the most poignant moments for me was when Prime Minister Begin, who is a very frustrating character, has a chance to explain a bit about why the Israelis act the way they do and just how much the Holocaust cost them as a people. “We are the chosen people,” he says, “but what has God chosen us for?”

    It was an incredibly intimate show that opened up the secret inner lives of these public figures, especially their religious lives, which were so closely tied to their negotiations. It was amazing to watch the story as one not only of nations, but of these individual people who, to some extent to against the wishes of their people, strove to make peace. It’s a story that really shows the ability of individuals to make a difference in a very tangible, global way.

    In spite of all the difficulties, it’s a very hopeful story. Peace was achieved in a place that no one thought could ever have it. The show itself is, of course, quite timely, as yet another round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks seems to sputter out. But if Camp David, both the show and the event, taught us anything, it’s to never believe that something is hopeless. Even the most deeply entrenched, viciously tenacious conflicts can be resolved when leaders arise who are willing to pay any price for peace.

    • Chloe, I think it’s incredible that you had the opportunity to meet the ambassador of the PLO to the United States, and even more incredible that you did just hours before watching “Camp David.” I’m curious as to how your theater going experience may have been different from usual by going separately from the rest of the class.

      I share your sentiments regarding the characters of the play. Carter, Sadat, and Begin are all both very prideful and very courageous, but the play does not fail to give reason to each leader’s stance on the issue.

      I still feel a little sad to hear that the language and issues today are the same today as they were forty years ago. Although the tone of the play is very hopeful, I wonder, have we really come a long way since then? I sincerely hope that a lasting peace can be reached in the near future.

  13. Camp David was the most realistic and lifelike play that I have seen throughout my time in Washington. Most impressive was how the director was able to cast the characters in the way that they would have acted. Traditional aspects of President Carter’s geniality were on full display, as wereEgyptian President Anwar El-Sadat’s yearning for peace at any cost and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s stubbornness to accept an agreement that used UN resolution 242 as a basis for negotiating.

    Further, I was impressed with how the play portrayed President Sadat as more of the risk taker in the peace process and Prime Minister Begin as the leader with less to lose. To this end, both had an outpouring of passion and emotion for their cause but it was presented that President Sadat made a larger gesture toward peace because he was the only Arab Leader who chose to take the steps to make peace with Israel. Because of this almost unilateral stance, Sadat risked alienating his alliance with the Arab World. The play accurately portrayed Sadat’s fear of striking the balance between a desire for peace with Israel and a possibility of maintaining any relationship with leaders in the Arab world. The fear and apprehension by Sadat showed the difficult decisions that leaders who wish to be the first to forge a path must take. Also, the play showed the emotions and conflict for Prime Minister Begin as he attempted to wrestle with the question of how to make the peace that he also desired along with maintaining security and justifying the agreement to the families of Israeli soldiers who died fighting Egypt in four previous wars. The play effectively showcased how both leaders dealt with the questions of legacy over internal nationalistic politics and in the end legacy and a desire for peace won out over their fear and apprehension of a negative reaction in their home countries.

    On a wholly different note, the play’s use of setting and staging was also notable. It was surprising how many different scenes the director was able to create during the performance to show different timings, locations and stages in negotiation. It was particularly notable how the movement of the house to almost the center-back of the stage was used to signal a potential climax in the negotiation with President Sadat’s threat to leave the negotiations without a deal. Additionally, it was impressive how the day trip to Gettysburg,PA was used as a potential diversion from the negotiations, and helped both leaders see the dire consequences of perpetual war and realize that they too could make the major sacrifices needed to achieve peace.

  14. I was thoroughly impressed by Camp David. It was funny, it was emotional, it was informative, and most of all it asked important questions. The audience was completely engaged from the second Richard Thomas, starring as Jimmy Carter, pulled on to the stage in his golf cart, until the final emotional dialogue between Thomas and Ron Rifkin, who played an exceptional Menachem Begin. Thomas, Rifkin, and Khaled Nabawy, as Anwar El-Sadat, were incredible, and managed to keep the play absorbing throughout the night.

    While the impeccable performances of this star-studded cast is definitely enough for me to give this play a ringing recommendation, I think the reason I found Camp David so compelling is that there was a clearly stated goal, peace in the Middle East, from the very first scene. It may have been a lofty, if not unachievable, goal, but it was a goal nonetheless. After President Carter declares this goal in the first scene, the rest of the play focuses on his attempt to accomplish this goal. This keeps the show concise. None of the scenes in the play were extraneous; every dialogue seemed to be moving the play forward. I think this is part of what made the play so effective. Some of the other plays we have seen this semester have, at times, included scenes which were not necessary to the plot, and have instead seemed to be “filling out” the play. Camp David, in contrast, was direct and to the point. Other plays lacked a clear objective, and instead seemed to just be trying to make a political point without supplying a compelling plot. In this respect, Camp David reminded me of We Are Proud to Present. We Are Proud to Present had a stated goal: to write/perform a play telling the story of the Herero. It ended up doing so much more, but the clear goal at the beginning was what motivated the play throughout, and helped create a compelling story.

  15. Prior to this class I had relatively little to no exposure to issues relating to the Middle East. I am really blessed to have been part of this class this semester. Being part of all of these plays has sparked an interest in learning more about the Middle East. As a person of Hispanic heritage, my intellectual focus has been on Latin America.

    By far, I felt that Rosalynn Carter was my favorite character in the play. She seemed elegant, yet peaceful and supportive. This was especially true when she would lighten up President Carter when everything seemed to be falling apart. Rosalyn was there to take the leaders out on a walk. The play also used a humor to emphasize the role of Rosalynn Carter when she would remind the “boys” that they were at Camp David to build peace in the Middle East. This, atleast to me, is really important because history tends to downplay the role of women.

    This play really seemed to humanize the conflict resolution, I believe this is the power that theater has. The scene that constantly pops up in my head was on the final day when President Carter gives the photos to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister begins to think about the future and all of the children that might be affected by the political ramifications of the leaders’ decisions at Camp David.

    The politics of funding was clearly visible in the film. There were multiple scenes and cool effects that the director could deploy. I just had to make a note of this as this was not the case for most of the plays that we have seen throughout the semester.

  16. I got the opportunity to finally see Camp David this past Tuesday afternoon, and thoroughly enjoyed the performance. Even though the cast was limited to just four characters, Camp David was able to hold my attention the entire time. Mrs. Carter or Rosalynn Carter was a stark contrast to the rest of the all male cast (President Carter, President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin); however, she was a character that I am a bit conflicted about. Rosalynn Carter is historically known to be a very intelligent woman, yet she plays it coy or almost naive when discussing the negotiations with President Sadat, Prime Minister Begin and even her husband.

    Rosalynn has an isolated conversation with each leader and repeatedly claims “Jimmy says… is that true?”—as if she is relying only on her husband’s intellect and not her own. She prompts them as if she is not knowledgable about the issues and tells short and sweet personal anecdotes to relate to enormous international issues. At first I was frustrated with her portrayal, and what I initially interpreted as a hegemonic representation. Giving it more thought, I realize that although hegemonic, Rosalynn is nonetheless portrayed as intelligent and clever—and perhaps even more persuasive than her own husband. In conversations with Jimmy, Rosalynn over re-focuses and re-engergizes him and does the same for the negotiations as well. She interjects at the opportune moments, providing both comic relief and focus.

    I also noted the interesting role that religion played in this performance, particularly the prayer scene. Before the negotiations began, there was a moment in which each leader was praying in his own way and to each respective God. President Carter spoke out loud in his prayer, asking God to guide him through the negotiations and do what is best for the country. Viewers get the understanding that each leader is likely praying for the same thing—spiritual guidance in “doing the right thing.” I felt that this scene illustrated the idea that despite the conflict, there may not be any truly malicious intentions, but rather differing belief systems, ideologies and versions of the truth.

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