Review by Macey Levin
At the opening night of Mark St. Germain’s play Camping with Henry and Tom, Julianne Boyd, artistic director of Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, declared for this season’s finale that she and her staff didn’t realize the relevance of the play when it was originally selected. Though first produced at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in 1993 when Ms. Boyd was artistic director there, the play could have been written last night with lines from the past week’s newscasts.
Some of the issues, personalities and catch-phrases that have been involved in the current presidential election are in this flawed but intriguing play. The characters – Thomas Alva Edison, Henry Ford and President Warren G. Harding – argue over corruption in government, the need for an outsider to be elected, sexual escapades of elected officials, immigration (Ford has an extensive speech in which he says, “First get rid of the Jews”) and “Let’s make America great again,” amongst other comments.
The premise of the play is partially based on an actual incident. Ford and Edison used to go camping together; St. Germain fictionalized their last trip, in 1921, by including Harding. They decide to leave the fictional campsite where their aides and the press have surrounded them to seek a quiet time. Ford, driving a Model T, veers to miss a deer on a mountainous road, disabling his car by running into a tree. Their first and continuing argument is what to do about the injured deer. Their attitude and decisions toward it mirror the development of the conflicts. While they wait to be rescued their various aspirations and personalities are revealed.