BWW Review: J.T. Rogers' Fascinating OSLO Transfers To Broadway and to The Trump Administration
When J.T. Rogers' fascinating play about the power and beauty of human interaction and diplomacy, Oslo, premiered Off-Broadway this past July at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater, it was a week before the national convention where Donald Trump was to be voted in as the Republican party's presidential candidate. While a good deal of the country was surprised to see the celebrity businessman who had never held a political office get so far in the nominating process, New York playgoers, a predominantly left-leaning bunch, were most likely optimistic, though cautiously so, that his candidacy would collapse during the general election.
But it didn't, and the opening night performance of Oslo's Broadway transfer to Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater occurred mere hours after the public learned that the United States had dropped a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb, the largest non-nuclear weapon in existence, on an ISIS cave complex in Afghanistan, escalating concern about President Trump's willingness to use the full force of the country's military arsenal in a time when North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un has express a desire to show off his country's nuclear might.
While neither the play nor director Bartlett Sher's swift and tense production have been significantly altered, there is no doubt that an increased concern for the world's security will color the way audiences react to OSLO, emphasizing the vital need for political and issue-oriented theatre that can be viewed differently as times change.
The play's focal point is the day in 1993 when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands at the White House before President Bill Clinton, signifying the road to peace that had been agreed upon with the Oslo Accords.
Rogers' extremely touching and realistically funny drama serves as a reminder that before important people can get together for the photo ops that signify historic moments, less-important people have to go through the messier business of getting them there.
Helping to make the play so entertaining and clever, without undercutting the seriousness of the subject, is that the premise of the fact-based piece begins as a somewhat naïve attempt at a social experiment.
Jefferson Mays plays social scientist Terje Rød-Larsen with sweet sincerity and excitable charm. Jennifer Ehle anchors the play with a sardonic performance as his pragmatic wife Mona Juul, an official in foreign ministry.
When the play begins, Mona has arranged for participants to try out Terie's theory that peace in the Middle East can be more quickly obtained by removing the high-profile posturing of public negotiations and allowing the participants social time to relate to each other as people.
With it being illegal for an IsraEli Government official to meet with a member of the PLO, a genial pair of academics (Daniel Oreskes and Daniel Jenkins) are acquired to meet with a PLO finance minister (forceful Anthony Azizi) and his Marxist colleague (sternly comical Dariush Kashani).
They're hosted at a comfortable estate with a conference room where they may be left alone to privately hash through the issues separating their people. Between sessions, Terje encourages personal conversations over cocktails and meals.
When it looks like progress is actually being made, the Israelis send in a serious representative; a director general of the foreign ministry (tough and volatile Michael Aronov) who is a master of manipulation.
Without getting overly sentimental, Rogers effectively brings out the admiration and affection these men have for each other as they defend the demands of their leaders.
While the negotiators tend to regard Mona as a respected colleague and see Terje as a bit of a fool, a pivotal moment hinges on the couple's acceptance of cultural norms that insist that the husband be regarded as superior.
"It's not about you," is a persistent theme of the play, as the male participants assume they deserve proper credit for their accomplishments.
Despite numerous locales and characters, the three hour long, three-act play never sags as actors roll pieces of designer Michael Yeargan's set on and off.
The play is abundantly talky, but it's the kind of crisp, clever talk that continually stimulates.
History tell us that the accomplishments of the Oslo Accords dissolved quickly, but in a hopeful epilogue we're reminded to keep remembering how far we've come and how much more we can do.