Nations don’t make peace, people do. That fundamental rule of foreign policy is at the crux of “Camp David,” Lawrence Wright’s new play about the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace negotiations, which is receiving its world premiere at Washington’s venerable Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” has spent his career reporting from and on the Middle East, immersing himself in its culture and age-old conflicts.
“I’ve been in the Middle East enough to realize how significant Camp David is,” Wright said last month during a stopover at Arena Stage, where he was observing rehearsals.
“To say this is one of the most important stories to put on our stage is a complete understatement,” said Artistic Director Molly Smith, who commissioned Wright to write the play. “For 13 days, 35 years ago, three world leaders exhibited the courage to risk their careers and their nations’ standings on the world stage in an effort to forge a peace agreement.”
Wright sees this unparalleled moment in 1979 and the resulting peace between Israel and Egypt as a model to be emulated.
“Camp David,” said Wright, “is the example of how peace can be made. It’s endured and it’s the basis of all our foreign policy.”
And Wright contends that it can also be the source of compelling onstage drama. Of former President Jimmy Carter, former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Wright said, “These were interesting characters. As a writer it always makes your job easier when you’ve got large-scale, conflicting characters who are engaged in a tussle and something really big is at stake.”
Wright is best known as a nonfiction writer, but he was also a co-writer on the 1998 Denzel Washington movie “The Siege,” and has written and performed two one-man shows: “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” and “The Human Scale,” inspired respectively by a trip to Gaza and by captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.