An Orthodox Jew, a Muslim, and a born-again Christian meet in the woods. This isn’t the setup to a joke, but the true story of 13 days that led to a peace agreement between historic enemies Israel and Egypt.
The year is 1978. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat have been reluctantly brought together by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The setting is the presidential retreat at Camp David, a mere 62 miles from Washington, D.C. but hopefully remote enough to keep the outside world at bay while the men work through political and personal animosities.
“Camp David,” by Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright, establishes from the get-go how wide spans the fissures between the sides as well as how deep runs the leaders’ religious convictions. In a moving scene, all three occupy different parts of the stage to worship and seeks divine guidance in their distinct customs and language.
That said, negotiations get off to a rocky start. Sadat (Khaled Nebawy) arrives with a detailed proposal that demands a lot of Begin (Ned Eisenberg) who is spoiling for a fight. We feel for President Carter (Richard Thomas), who ended his earlier garden conversation with the Almighty with the plea “Please don’t let me screw it up, Amen.”
Fortunately, the president has a secret weapon in First Lady Rosalynn Carter (Hallie Foote), whose Southern charm and an uncanny knack of appearing at just the right moment with an invitation to tennis or a tray of tea disarms tensions.
“How’s the peacemaking going?” she merrily asks.
As the days wear on, an anxious world awaits: This is conveyed by a video clip of a network news anchor recounting that day’s progress (or lack of). Like a cell dividing, projection designer Jeff Sugg has the solo image quickly becomes four, then eight, then sixteen until the back wall of the stage is packed with talking heads.
This is a whip-sharp cast under confident direction by Molly Smith. Design elements by Walt Spangler have you smelling the Camp David pine trees.
The story is riveting, moving, insightful, at times humorous, and often surprising as three very different men find peace is possible and that hope is always a better choice.
Nearly 40 years later, peace between Israel and Egypt remains.