BWW Review: OSLO at Mirvish Breathes Life into the Figures Behind the Oslo Accords
The Studio 180 production of OSLO, presented as part of the off-Mirvish season, tells the heavily-dramatized story behind the Oslo Accords. Written by J.T. Rogers and directed here by Joel Greenberg, the play receives a minimalistic interpretation of the 1990s backroom negotiations between Palestine and Israel conceptualized and orchestrated by Norwegian academic Terje Rød-Larsen (Blair Williams).
The play is largely dialogue-based due to the nature of the plot but remains straightforward enough for any audience member to follow along, largely in part to the narration provided by Terje's wife and prominent politician Mona Juul (Marla McLean), who plays the role of supporting wife to Terje while holding her own. In the game of negotiations, Terje might have been the one to set the talks into motion but he's far too unlikeable (and unliked by nearly all the show's characters) to be credited for the results. Rather, it's clear that without Mona, they would be nothing (a fact mentioned at nauseum by almost all of the play's men). McLean portrays Mona's trust, fear, and genius wonderfully throughout, making her the key player from the Norwegian's team of politicians.
As the representatives from Palestine's PLO, Ahmed Qurie (Sanjay Talwar) and Hassan Asfour (Omar Alex Khan) balanced off each other beautifully. Talwar plays the big-hearted finance minister of the PLO as a likeable, sincere individual who manages to land some of the best jokes of the evening. Khan is the stoic socialist to Talwar's charm, and the two together - especially when joined by the Israeli economics professors Yair Hirschfeld (Amitai Kedar) and Ron Pundak (Jordan Pettle) who are awkward, sweet, and incredibly entertaining when paired with the PLO team.
As the bad-boy Director General of Israel's Foreign Ministry Uri Savir (Jonas Chernick), Chernick delivers the young leader with a too-cool-for-politics, rockstar energy. His arrival makes him seem nonchalant about the negotiations he's been pulled into, and his fast switch to enthusiasm seems slightly inauthentic but it's towards the end of the talks where he shines most. Following a tense moment during discussions, Chernick and Talwar's walk is written wonderfully - something both actors leverage to deliver a truly memorable moment.
Because the story is so focused on the dialogue happening between the characters, the choice to keep sets minimal works well (set and costume design by Ken MacKenzie), with only the changing of white tables and chairs for couches differentiating between the negotiation room and the more casual areas of the lodge. The use of multi-level lighting (lighting design by Kimberly Purtell), with an arch around the edge of stage and thin coloured lights in the crown molding helping to set the tone of each scene. In support of providing context to what was happening in Israel and Palestine during the accords, projections and sound excerpts showing clips from news features (projection design by Cameron Davis; sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne) shows the faces of those most affected by the violence, making the backroom talks seem all the more crucial.
OSLO provides a unique and dramatized retrospective into what might have happened in those Norwegian rooms over 20 years ago. While the papers haven't had the long-term success their creators had hoped for, the story behind them show that even the most different people can learn to find common ground and work towards a united goal. The message is not kept subtle and the story's closing words, delivered by Williams with McLean nearby, lean heavily on hope. Given the political climate of today it's a bit cliché, but after listening to OSLO's cast and watching the growth of its characters it works perfectly.
Studio 180 and Mirvish's OSLO runs through March 3 at the CAA Theatre 651 Yonge St., Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/oslo