San Diego Theater Review: CAMPING WITH HENRY AND TOM (Lamb’s Players Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on February 24, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


There’s a game where you get to pick three famous people and go to dinner with all of them. In Mark St. Germaine’s  Camping with Henry and Tom, it’s kind of like that game, except it’s based on a true story. And you only get to watch the conversation.

In 1921, automobile magnet Henry Ford and his older companion, inventor Thomas Edison, extend their usual escapades to include an unlikely third person: President Warren Harding. St. Germaine fictionalizes what could have been said as the three become stranded away from the secret service, killing time together as they wait, hungrily, to be found and rescued.

Robert Smyth is charming as Edison, playing him reminiscent of a more-brilliant Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy. His curmudgeon-flavored lines are the cleverest work in the piece, as the peace-craving man repeatedly puts the other two in their places, especially Ford (Francis Gercke). Camping is billed as a comedy, but as Ford and Harding (Manny Fernandes) are more serious about their worlds, most of the humor is from Edison’s lips. In fact, as this historical fiction goes on, it is really more of a drama with comedic moments than a comedy at all — especially as the infamous Ford unleashes his darker side, which is anything but fiction.

Short of giving away the primary conflict, which takes a while to unveil itself, the plot is mostly in the oppositional forces defining Ford and Harding. Initially, it’s all joviality and formal nature (right down to Jemima Dutra’s purposeful overdressing for time spent in the forest), but as the gloves of politeness come off, the secret service may need to save them in more ways than one.

Despite good character work and delivery from the trio, this formality in the script does cause the first act to drag a little before truly piquing us before intermission. Even the revelations in the first half are more on the surface than we might hope. Under Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s tension-filled direction, though, Act II raises the stakes with one line even yielding a gasp from many in the audience.

Mike Buckley’s set design is excellent, with large trees, grassy areas, and even an actual Model T perfectly setting the stage.

Written in 1993, the script is more prophetic than St. Germaine could have known. It would be impossible not to take note of how Ford’s ambition and aspirations reflect both the 2016 Presidential Race and the fifteen months since, making Camping as much cautionary tale as entertainment.

photos courtesy of Lamb’s Players

Camping with Henry and Tom
Lamb’s Players Theatre
1142 Orange Ave in Coronado
Wed at 2 & 7:30; Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 4 & 8; Sun at 2
ends on March 25, 2018
for tickets, call 619.437.6000 or visit Lamb’s Players

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