Monday, 11 July 2016

OSLO by J.T. Rogers at the Lincoln Center Theatre

     OSLO depicts the negotiations of the 1993 Oslo accord, a courageous attempt to broker an agreement between the leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. It led the the PLO governing the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but obviously didn't lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The idea for these back channel negotiations came from a Norwegian sociologist Terje Rod-Larsen (the always wonderful Jefferson Mays), who believed that only unmoderated face-to-face meetings between enemies could lead to a successful outcome, and his wife, Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle on top form), an officer in Norway's foreign ministry. These two connived, dickered and sometimes lied to their superiors and leading figures in the Israeli government to get the talks started and keep them going. What was most surprising and sad was that the Arab diplomats had never sat down with Israelis and vice-versa. On the whole, this is an absorbing, intelligent and entertaining play. It could be improved with some judicious pruning. There are too many lame attempts to make the Israelis and Palestinians likable--too many scenes of drinking and joking--and a few too many reminders of how momentous it all was. The scenes of negotiation are fascinating. OSLO is the kind of play British playwright David Hare has been writing for years. Rogers does it better.
     Bartlett Sher has given the play a fleet, beautifully staged production on the Mitzi Newhouse stage. The cast couldn't be better. Mays gives the central character great charm, but doesn't hide his hunger to be at the center of events (at the end, his wife has to remind him, "This is not about you"). Anthony Azizi and Adam Dannheisser are brilliant as the passionate PLO and Israeli representatives. These actors head a superb, large ensemble.
     OSLO gives us a slice of history that is still timely. I was still jet-lagged when I sat through its three hours, but I was totally fascinated.

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