The Rousuck Review: Theatrical Mining Company’s production of “Fourteen Days in July” at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival.
Although “Fourteen Days in July” focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Camp David in July 2000, one of the play’s most moving scenes takes place at Gettysburg.
Middle East envoy Dennis Ross accompanies Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to visit the Civil War battlefield. Barak draws a chilling parallel between that war and the dangers facing his own country. The conversation then shifts from political history to personal history.
Lewis K. Schrager adapted “Fourteen Days in July” from the memoir, “The Missing Peace,” by Ambassador Ross, the playwright’s longtime friend. Produced by the Theatrical Mining Company as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, the play examines the politics, personalities and frustrations of the unsuccessful summit.
John Robert Wright portrays Ross, the play’s guide and storyteller. Under Barry Feinstein’s direction, Wright imbues this dedicated diplomat with seriousness, tempered with genuine humanity. Along with the Gettysburg scene, a series of recurring phone conversations with Ross’ wife offer a glimpse of the man outside the tense negotiations.
Wright’s portrayal is the fulcrum of the production, which I saw in rehearsal. Percy W. Thomas also gives an intense portrayal of adamant Yasir Arafat. The Palestinian Authority Chairman repeatedly calls Ron Zyna’s President Clinton his “friend,” but ultimately proves intransigent.
The insights in “Fourteen Days” help illuminate the misinterpretations and missed opportunities that not only prevented peace then, but continue to embroil relations today.
Playwright Schrager borrowed considerable text from Ross’ book. He trimmed the nearly two dozen negotiators down to a cast of 11 -- still a large number by today’s stage standards. And the playwright missed a few opportunities to dramatize scenes that are merely narrated – particularly when the Israeli delegation hosts a Shabbat dinner.
Coincidentally, a play called simply, “Camp David,” by Lawrence Wright, premiered at Washington’s Arena Stage in March. Wright’s play focused on President Carter’s 1978 treaty-producing Middle East peace talks. It also had a strong scene set at Gettysburg.
But despite the star-studded cast at Arena, the Baltimore Playwrights Festival’s modest, unevenly cast production has a gritty, behind-the-scenes accessibility, due in no small part to the human scale of the character of Ross.
“Fourteen Days in July” is one of only three plays in this summer’s Baltimore Playwrights Festival. Of the five plays originally announced, two were canceled – one due to artistic differences and the other due to a casting shortage, partly attributable to Baltimore’s burgeoning theater scene. The result is the smallest line-up in the festival’s 33-year history.
The Playwrights Festival still receives upwards of 70 submissions a year. And, as it has for a decade, it will participate in the Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage festival in a few weeks. But Baltimore Playwrights Festival organizers acknowledge that it’s time to “revitalize” and “grow into the 21st century.”
Having followed the Baltimore Playwrights Festival for three decades, I know that it fills a need developing and presenting new plays by Maryland playwrights. Seeing a work like “Fourteen Days in July” furthers my hope that the festival can meet its challenges, restructure and come back bolder and healthier next summer.
-- J. Wynn Rousuck
“Fourteen Days in July,” a Baltimore Playwrights Festival production, continues through August 31 at LeClerc Hall at Notre Dame of Maryland University. You can find more information here.