Review: ‘Oslo’ Is A Trip Worth Taking
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, April 14, 2017
Who would ever have thought that history presented on stage could be so compelling?
Oh yeah, Lin-Manuel Miranda and that little musical called Hamilton thought so. And also J.T. Rogers in his brilliant play Oslo, which opened last night at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center after a successful Off-Broadway run last year.
A combination of investigation and imagination on the part of Rogers and the play’s director, Bartlett Sher, have created a taut three hours that hold us breathless and leave us both thinking and weeping.
In 1994, in a chateau outside the Norwegian capital, a married couple created a top secret back channel that led, remarkably, to that historical handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat at Bill Clinton’s White House. As played by the brilliant Jennifer Ehle and the equally brilliant Jefferson Mays, the couple is Mona Juul, a Norwegian Foreign Ministry officer and Terje Rod-Larsen, director of an applied social sciences institute (they were interviewed extensively by Rogers in his research). Juul and Rod-Larsen alternately skate and stumble their way through gatherings of Israelis and Palestinians that move, slowly yet skillfully, up the chain of diplomatic command as long-time and seemingly immovable adversaries bargain, argue, fight, drink, eat, and uneasily and surprisingly stumble towards agreement.
It’s all part of Terje’s theory of negotiation based in the personal, not the political or organizational. They share food and drink and personal stories, meeting each other as human beings, not as nations or entities or enemies.
The entire cast is uniformly captivating, particularly Michael Aronov as a rock-star flashy Israeli diplomat and Daniel Oreskes and Daniel Jenkins as a duo of can’t-believe-we’re-here academics from Haifa. And for comic relief—although the play is surprisingly funny throughout—we have Henny Russell as the chateau’s cook, whose waffles become a balm to the troubled negotiators.
Would you go see a historically-based three-hour play about the making of the 1993 Oslo Accord set in Norway with nary a movie star in sight? If I’d asked you in 2015 if you’d want to see a hip-hop musical about a founding father starring no one you’d ever heard of, would you have said yes to that? You should have, and you should say yes to this one too. Oslo is not educational, it’s enlightening. And it’s crackling damn good theater too.
Oslo at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street, opened on April 13, 2017 for an open run. Running time: 2 hours and 55 minutes with one intermission. Written by J.T. Rogers. Directed by Bartlett Sher; scenic design by Michael Yeargan; costume design by Catherine Zuber; lighting design by Donald Holder; sound design by Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg; projections by 59 Projections. Cast: Michael Aronov, Anthony Azizi, Adam Dannheisser, Jennifer Ehle, Daniel Jenkins, Dariush Kashani, Jeb Kreager, Jefferson Mays, Christopher McHale, Daniel Oreskes, Henny Russell, Joseph Siravo, and T. Ryder Smith.
Cover: Anthony Azizi, Dariush Kashani, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Aronov and Daniel Oreskes in ‘Oslo;’ photo: T. Charles Erickson.