BWW Review: A Large Political Canvas Yet Focus on the Personal Portraits in Pioneer Theatre Company's Riveting OSLO
A riveting story of global politics? Who would think it possible?
By transforming the political into the personal, OSLO wittily reveals the lengthy process of the historic 1993 Israeli-Palestinian accords. The play is not only successful theater, it is engrossing and enriching.
The coup of Pioneer Theatre Company's selection to premiere OSLO as the first post-Broadway staging is an achievement surpassed by its immaculate production. From direction and performances to the tiniest detail of the Waterford tumblers for the Johnny Walker Black Label, PTC's OSLO deeply impresses and entertains.
Anyone who knows me will quickly remark of my briefest of interest in politics (with the news of his death, John McCain had to be explained to me.) Yet I eagerly followed the plot of OSLO as if I didn't know the ending (I do vividly remember the televised Rose Garden Yasser Arafat-Yitzhak Rabin handshake). I laughed at the refreshing humor and was moved by the humanity displayed. (And I was jetlagged, after 10 late-night, early-morning hours in the Denver airport earlier that day.)
In lesser hands, OSLO will be a disaster. The original director was the masterful Bartlett Sher, and immediately returning from seeing Broadway shows earlier in the week helped me identify the sparkling, smooth work by PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg. (Barring only a wobbly backdrop,) how could the staging have been better of Broadway was a frequent thought thoughout. The three-hour play has perfect pacing and remarkably vivid performances.
OSLO is epic but the clear focus is the individuals involved, and no political agenda to muddy the message of what can come of sitting at a table and talking. "It is only through the sharing of the personal that we can see each other for who we truly are" is a memorable line.
It's difficult to single out the actors for their fine work. There is a wide cast of characters with widely varied outlooks and ideological leanings -- and dialects (the actors received gifted guidance by Sarah Shippobotham as dialect coach).
New York actors Kate Middleton and Jeff Talbot, remembered for their previous work on the PTC stage, play the initiators of the secret peace talks, Norwegian husband and wife Mona Juul and Terje Rød-Larsen, with warmth, fierce determination and tactful restraint. Middleton also is the play's narrator, balancing the rooms of men in suits (each precise Leon Wiebers period costume deftly reveals character).
With a rock-star swagger, the dashingly handsome Ben Cherry is Israeli diplomat Uri Savir (with credit for widely varied lead roles in "Passion," "Mary Poppins," "The Secret Garden,"* "Henry V" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor.") In his sixth PTC performance, Utahn Richie Call plays Joel Singer.
Oh, I forgot: Along with being Broadway-fresh, OSLO is the Tony winner for Best Play and won every other best play honor (New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama League Award, Lucille Lortel Award, Obie Award). And Salt Lake has seen world premieres of OSLO's award-winning playwright J.T. Rogers at the Salt Lake Acting Company, where he was playwright in residence. A film version of OSLO has been announced, with a script by Rogers.
*Wouldn't it be wonderful to invite Cherry to re-create his role in a PTC production of "The Secret Garden"?