by Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager
In the first weeks of rehearsal I sat down with an impressive cast of actors — Richard Thomas, Hallie Foote, Ron Rifkin and Khaled Nabawy — and delved into the fascination, challenges and joys of Camp David. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.
What attracted you to this project?
Richard Thomas: I already knew Larry Wright’s work, and was a big fan. Sometimes the need to put history into a play creates something didactic, or formal, or alienating. I knew Larry would get the history right — how could he not — but when I read the play, I also found it to be very compelling. It has a really intimate quality which is fantastic.
Hallie Foote: I also found it very human and moving.
Khaled Nabawy: And, of course, the role itself. It’s very challenging to jump into a role that is totally different from you. I wanted to bring something to the new generation: what really happened behind the scenes, the conflict between the three men, and the role that Rosalynn played.
Hallie Foote: Right. That's why I wanted to play Rosalynn. She’s such a smart woman.
Khaled Nabawy: Larry wrote it in a very smart way in that he did not write it from any side’s point of view. All sides will find themselves in the play - the people who did not agree with the Accords, they will be mad, and the people who agreed with it, they will be happy.
Ron Rifkin: As a Jew, this story is of tremendous importance to me. The script is fair in not taking sides between the Americans, the Israelis and the Egyptians. I felt it showed all three sides very well.
What have you discovered from working on the play that has surprised you?
Hallie Foote: I’m amazed at how influential Rosalynn was in this process. I have so much respect for her. Also, how many people were there, in the delegations, for instance. Each delegation — the one attached to Jimmy Carter, the one attached to Sadat, the one attached to Begin - influenced these men. And each man stood up to different people within their delegation.
Khaled Nabawy: I can feel how difficult the situation was that Sadat found himself in. The more I study him, the more I study the situation, the deeper I go, you can feel he’s alone. He’s facing the whole world, especially the world he’s coming from, his people, even his own delegation. He’s carrying a lot of things on his shoulders; I don’t think that many people could’ve carried this.
Hallie Foote: It was a very brave act to take on something like this - for all of them.
Richard Thomas: Carter is never weak; he’s clearly a very strong character. He’s not just a nice guy. There’s a tactician in there. This is a man who was the President of the United States, who is highly analytical, an incredibly intelligent person, who is calculating every single moment what the situation is, and what it’s going to be. The charm that he has shouldn’t obscure his intellect, the steeliness and the ambition in the man.
Ron Rifkin: I’ve done a lot of study about Begin — his magnificent persona and intelligence and articulateness and humanity. I’ve grown to admire him tremendously. I really didn’t have a sense of him before this.
What are the challenges and joys of portraying an historic person on stage?
Khaled Nabawy: The joy is very important to me as an actor because, if I’m not going to enjoy what I’m doing, I cannot transfer this joy to the audience.
Richard Thomas: The joy is always in the playing, whatever the play is - when the play is good and the company is good.
Hallie Foote: What I’m seeing with this project — a dramatic piece based on historic fact — is that there’s nothing dry about it. Rosalynn’s a human being and I’m tapping into the essence of her. It’s more interesting when you find things that you can tap into, that you relate to, and then it becomes your own thing. You learn a lot about the person when you’re working on the character and that’s the joy of it. As far as the challenge, it’s about doing them justice.
Ron Rifkin: There’s that fine line between creating something new and reliving something real — what’s drama and what’s real life. One always wants to be true to history, especially with characters as big as these. You really want to honor them and support them.
What creature comforts do you bring with you when you perform out of town?
Richard Thomas: I brought my own tea - a Ceylon tea - and my tea infuser. And my books. My reading material is important, music is important. One of the good things about iPads and Kindles is that, as much as I love my books, when you’re on tour or traveling, you don’t have an entire box you need to ship around. So, that’s helpful.
Ron Rifkin: I brought a candle from my apartment.
Hallie Foote: I bring my own pillows, and I bring my yoga stuff —
Ron Rifkin: I brought my gym clothes so I can go to the gym every day. Is that a creature comfort?
Hallie Foote: — not that I’ll ever do yoga. I’m well-intentioned, but I don’t know if I’ll ever end up doing it!
Richard Thomas: I used to bring a lot more things with me but now I need less and less.
Khaled Nabawy: My son’s picture, and our holy book, the Qur’an. My home is in me, I really don’t need anything to remind me of home. Egypt is always with me.
(Photo - clockwise from bottom left: Hallie Foote, Ron Rifkin, Khaled Nabawy and Richard Thomas. Photo by Tony Powell.)