With recent American airstrikes aimed at Syria and suicide bombings having become a seemingly everyday occurrence, our hopes for true peace in the in the world seem to dwindle by the hour. But perhaps, just perhaps, people exist today like the Norwegian sociologist, Terje Larsen, and his wife, Mona, a mid-level official in Norway’s foreign ministry, who helped forge the groundbreaking (if short-lived) peace treaty in 1993 between Israel and the PLO.
Who? Their previously little-know story is being told with dazzling complexity by J.T. Rogers in “Oslo,” now being given a 14-karat gold production at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater (after a fall run downstairs at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater). Under the sterling direction of Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher, this production sets the bar for 2017.
What transpires during “Oslo” has been brought to fire-breathing life by the playwright, who readily admits to having made up the dialogue and other elements of the story (which is based on real events). Nevertheless, it’s undeniably thrilling to watch Rogers’ version of the nail-biting backstory of the back-channel negotiations that led to this historic agreement. And as much as we know the outcome of these talks before the play begins, Rogers makes us feel like the game onstage could be over any second.
A most unlikely pair of heroes, the Larsens (played brilliantly by Tony winners Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle) must deal with some of the strongest personalities on the planet in what often feels like a never-ending game of chess. On one side are PLO chairman Yassir Arafat’s right-hand men, the passionate if ultimately level-headed Ahmed Qurie (superbly embodied by Anthony Azizi) and the almost maniacal Hassan Affour (a terrifying Dariush Kashani). On the other, the players include the always wily Israeli minister Uri Sarinov (a blistering Michael Aronov), no-nonsense Washington lawyer Joel Singer (an excellent Jeff Still), and the strong-willed Shimon Peres (the crackerjack Daniel Oreskes).
While these fine actors (along with T. Ryder Smith, Daniel Jenkins, Henny Russell, Adam Dannheiser, Christopher McHale, Angela Pierce and Jeb Kreager) do the heavy lifting, pulling us closer and closer into this fascinating story every minute, one cannot underestimate the contributions of Mays and Ehle, even if they spend a fair amount of time literally and figuratively on the sidelines.
In Mays’ expert hands, Terje is both charmer and clown, a man with a firm belief in his new way of negotiating and the tenacity to get it done, yet also a man who is a bit of a fool, both blinded by the limelight and unwilling to realize that, ultimately, he’s not the one standing in it. Similarly, the always remarkable Ehle is perfect; her Mona is strong and sensible, deeply pragmatic, completely uninterested in personal glory and all the more glorious for it.
The move to the larger Beaumont proves to be both a blessing and a curse. Michael Yeargan’s minimalist, frequently-changing set is given more room to breathe, and Catherine Zuber’s spot-on costumes, and 59 Productions’ invaluable projections still do just what they need to set the mood. However, some of the play’s intimacy disappears in its new home, and the Beaumont’s acoustics occasionally lend to muddy cross-dialogue and what seems to be some unnecessary shouting from a few of the players.
For those Americans for whom home seems too close to home these days, a trip to the real-life Oslo might seem like the ideal getaway. But choose a visit to the Vivian Beaumont instead -- even if it’s just for three hours. It’s closer, cheaper, and will very likely be even more rewarding.
By Brian Scott Lipton
Visit the Site
Michael Aronov, Anthony Azizi, Adam Dannheisser, Jennifer Ehle, Daniel Jenkins, Dariush Kashani, Jeb Kreager, Jefferson Mays, Christopher McHale, Daniel Oreskes, Angela Pierce, Henny Russell, Joseph Siravo, T. Ryder Smith
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/23/2017
Vivian Beaumont Theater
150 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023