Titans clash with humor and charm in ‘Camping with Henry and Tom’

Titans clash with humor and charm in 'Camping with Henry and Tom'
Gary Mutz as Thomas Alva Edison (Photos by Jamie Jobb).

“I hate politicians” Mark St. Germain’s “Camping with Henry & Tom” sums up the beliefs of his characters, and I think audiences can all agree.

The play is set in 1921 when automotive titan Henry Ford (Wayne McRice) and the great inventor Thomas Alva Edison (Gary Mutz) take President Warren G. Harding (Mark Hinds) camping in the wilderness.

Ford hits a deer with his new Model A and the three are left stranded in the woods.

“Camping with Henry and Tom” is a fictitious story about three of the country’s most influential historical figures who indeed spent much time camping, though Germain uses artistic license in creating the circumstances of his  play.  Ford, Edison and Harding are stuck in the middle of the woods, in the serene landscape of Licking Creek, Maryland.  Edison & Ford’s inventions changed the landscape of our lives:  inventing the automobile, the light bulb and motion pictures.

Randy Anger’s staging of the play is flawless, showcasing the strong acting of the trio and orchestrating movement on the incredible set by Diane McRice.  Mutz is mesmerizing in his role, captivating the audience with his charm and genuine style.

The play’s flow reflects the incredible energy of Onstage Artistic Director Helen Means, who first produced the show in 1994. Some 25 years later, the play is still significant. The company celebrates its 43rd anniversary this year.

Blackmail in the woods

Hinds plays the 29th President with humor.  Reluctantly stranded with Ford and Edison, he is disillusioned when he discovers Ford intends to blackmail him and reap the benefits to activate a hydroelectric plant at Muscle Shoals, which will destroy the natural wildlife.

We are sympathetic to Hinds’ Harding who has been hospitalized several times in mental institutions and would much rather live simply with his mistress and child than be President.

He never wanted the job but was pushed to the career by his supporters, because he looks “like a president.”

Both Harding and Ford have lurid pasts and wives who do not make life easy. Edison mediates the two men. He is sarcastic, full of common sense and at first refuses to have his attention drawn out of the pages of his vacation book and into the argument.

Ford is Anti-Semitic, a shrewd businessman who is looking for support from Harding for his plan to purchase a hydroelectric facility that Ford believes could change America. He also has big ambitions to replace Harding as President. Ford is American patriotism gone bad .

He wants to make America great again.

Titans clash with humor and charm in 'Camping with Henry and Tom'There is much humor in the script. For instance,  Hinds howling for a search party to rescue them and Ford’s trying to convince the group to square dance brought a light heartedness to the issues of environmental concerns in the play which continue to plague us in 2019.

Joseph Hirsch adeptly plays secret serviceman Colonel Starling, who has a difficult time controlling the trio of powerful men.

“Camping with Henry and Tom” plays through Sept. 29 at the Campbell Theater in Martinez. For more info contact Campbelltheater.com or 925-350-9970.