BWW Review: ACT Negotiates a Stunningly Solid Piece with OSLO

BWW Review: ACT Negotiates a Stunningly Solid Piece with OSLO
The cast of Oslo at ACT.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion

In 1993 a few Norwegian politicians managed the impossible, to get the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a peace. What sounds even more impossible is that they all kept it secret. Now this may not sound like the riveting topic for a three-hour play but what J.T. Rogers' "Oslo", currently playing at ACT, does it to go beyond the facts of the accords and examines the humanity that made the accords possible and that kind of conflict makes for a tense and often times funny piece presented with a stunning ensemble from ACT.

If you're not familiar with the Oslo Accords, they're the result of negotiations over several months between the Israelis and Palestinians to try and come to an agreement over fair borders and recognition in the area and an end to the violence. But when years of open talks had failed, a Norwegian sociologist, Terje Rød-Larsen (Avery Clark), and his diplomat wife, Mona Juul (Christine Marie Brown), managed to establish secret backchannel talks between the Finance Minister for the Palestine Liberation Organization, Ahmed Qurie, and PLO Liaison, Hassan Asfour (Wasim No'mani), with two Israeli Economic Professors, Yair Hirschfeld and Ron Pundak (R. Hamilton Wright and MJ Sieber), who were there on the behest of Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin (Mike Dooly) since it would be illegal for an Israeli official to meet with a Palestinian official at that time. Terje and Mona facilitated the talks not by dictating the terms but by allowing the men to relate to each other as humans, having them dine and drink and socialize with each other and to take each small point one by one. Eventually higher up Israeli officials would be brought in, Uri Savir (Brandon O'Neill), the Director General of the Foreign Ministry and Joel Singer (Aaron Blakely), Legal Advisor to the Foreign Ministry.

What this amazing cast under the direction of John Langs and Rogers does such a brilliant job of looking at is where the region might be if these Norwegian diplomats had never stepped in. A region that most people had written off as unrepairable, and yes, there's still turmoil there but the progress that was made there still stands and gives us hope for the future.

Langs has allowed for a very open and free playing space for the actors in the sparse set by L.B. Morse that's just a few chairs and some fantastic projections. But that's all that's needed to set the tone perfectly for this battle of wills. And the entire ensemble (Christine Marie Brown, Avery Clark, Aaron Blakely, Mike Dooly, Elena Joyner, Darragh Kennan, Martyn G. Krouse, Wasim No'mani, Brandon O'Neill, Victor Pappas, MJ Sieber, Jeff Spaulding, Kate Witt, and R. Hamilton Wright)

is sublime, each one completely present and right in the game with everyone else on stage making for a tight back and forth with the fate of an entire people hanging in the balance. From Brown's centered narration to Clark's unwavering optimism to Pappas' desperate hope for them to succeed to O'Neill's swaggering bravado, and more, each of them creates such individual and rich characters and each take such a full journey within the play.

It's no small wonder this was the darling of Broadway in 2017 winning the Tony Award for Best Play with such a vibrant and engaging tale. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give ACT's production of "Oslo" a captivated YAY. It actually gives us hope for the future. We just need to find each other's humanity, and a good plate of waffles.

"Oslo" performs at ACT through November 11th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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