“Camping with Henry and Tom” at Taproot Theatre

What happens when three of the nation’s brilliant men find themselves marooned in the woods when their auto has an unfortunate encounter with a deer that renders it undrivable? On this stage you’ll find witty and thought provoking dialogue as President Warren Harding, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison match wits and reveal their characters.

The play, directed here by Scott Nolte, is based on an actual experience, but the playwright (Mark St. Germain) has, of course, imagined the conversations and interactions of these three mighty forces who so influenced the 20th C. There’s the aging Edison, a brilliant inventor with a laid back personality. As played by Rob Burgess, he’s a wry, avuncular figure, an island of calm amidst the fireworks provided by Harding and Ford.

David Pichette as Ford epitomizes the greedy, self-serving, and unsavory titan of industry that Ford became. He wrangled Harding into this outing because he wanted Harding to give him control of Muscle Shoals dam and region in Alabama that Ford thought could be made to rival the industrial power of Detroit. As he worked Harding over, nothing was off limits including threats about revealing Harding’s mistress and illegitimate child.

Ford’s anti-Semitism, his disrespect for African Americans, his horrible treatment of his son Edsel, all of these are powerfully exposed by Pichette. Here is a man with few personal qualities to commend him. Brilliant? Yes. Successful? Yes. A human being to honor? No.

Frank Lawler, on the other hand, makes Harding a rather sympathetic character. He’s in way over his head as President. It’s not a job he relishes, and even he understands that he doesn’t quite have the skills to carry out that demanding role. The character contrast revealed in this production is fascinating. And it all plays out in a wonderfully realized forest created by Mark Lund.

When Taproot selected this play and put it on the calendar, it could not possibly have recognized that many of the issues it raises would be so pertinent to audiences today.

Through March 3 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, 206 781-9707 or box@taproottheatre.org.

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