Tense negotiations, strong personalities and psychological drama are reimagined in the new play Fourteen Days in July, written by Rockville resident Lewis Schrager, based on Ambassador Dennis Ross’ memoir The Missing Peace, the account of his participation in the Clinton administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from 1992 to 2000. The premiere is Aug. 15 and runs for two weekends as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival.
Schrager, in collaboration with director and festival founder Barry Feinstein, distilled events from the intense two-week period at Camp David in 2000 into to a two-hour play packed with 11 powerful characters — Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat, Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright and President Bill Clinton among them, and, of course, Ambassador Ross.
“One of the reasons I wrote it is that I was frustrated with the pace of negotiations,” said Schrager, who is a physician and vice president of scientific affairs at Aeras, a nonprofit that develops tuberculosis vaccines. He also teaches during intercession at Johns Hopkins University and said, “I write in my spare time, it’s my therapy.” He has also written books and other plays.
Schrager concludes that with the current events in the Middle East, the play has taken on a greater significance in terms of the timing of its production, but he is not surprised the story of seemingly impossible peace negotiations has been, and is, still relevant.
“The reason I think this play is very important is because the Camp David negotiations resulted in a proposed settlement. That is what peace looks like,” Schrager asserted. “It’s not a mystery. That is as good as it’s going to get. And what you need is leadership on the part of the Israelis and Palestinians to get back to where we were in 2000.”
Schrager believes the facts of the agreement “put on the table in 2000” have been forgotten by many people, including government leaders, journalists and even the public.
He is an educator at heart and believes people learn best if content is engaging and entertaining, not didactic; he hopes to achieve that with his play. It’s also important to him to remain objective in his role as playwright, he said, regarding the political content of the story as well as a great respect he holds for Ross as a trusted politician and a close friend.
“It is an interesting experience to have a Sunday afternoon basketball practice interrupted by a phone call by Yasser Arafat or Yitzchak Rabin,” recalled Schrager of time spent with Ross playing on Rockville’s Kol Shalom Congregation basketball team, where they are both still members. “But that was the nature of the game. We’ve been friends ever since, and I cherish that friendship,” which began about 20 years ago when Ross was actively involved in the peace negotiations, he added.
Schrager pored over Ross’ book and the history, beginning well before the Camp David negotiations for about a year. Then he had to “figure out how you take a situation that has about 36 or 38 different negotiators,” he said, “and boil it down to a few representative negotiators, demonstrative of the negotiation process, but also [include] the personal stakes and the psychological drama” that played out during the two weeks of arduous negotiations.
Ross will attend the Aug. 23 performance and will participate in a post-show discussion. Fourteen Days in July will be performed in an intimate black-box 44-seat theater on the Notre Dame campus, so the audience will feel the explosiveness of the content, Feinstein said.
“A great play does that for you,” festival founder and director Feinstein added.
“Sometimes you walk out [of the theater] and you can’t get the characters, the ideas that were expressed, the drama that came through, you can’t get them out of your mind, you have to talk to people about it.”
Fourteen Days in July is onstage at LeClerc Hall on the campus of Notre Dame of Maryland, 4701 N. Charles St., Baltimore on Aug. 22-24 and 29-31, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Former Ambassador Dennis Ross will attend the Aug. 23 performance and participate in a post-show discussion. Tickets, at $10, are available by calling 410-294-8956 or at theatricalmining.org.
Melissa Gerr is senior staff reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times, WJW’s sister publication.