The critically-acclaimed drama "Oslo" opened at Lincoln Center on Thursday night after a celebrated run off-Broadway last year. NY1 theatre critic Roma Torre filed the following review.
In J.T. Rogers's play "Oslo," one character says, "The Middle East — they don't do peace." But as incredible as it sounds, peace did come 24 years ago. The Oslo Accords, as it was known, brought Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat together on the White House lawn to shake hands. Momentous, certainly, and all it took was months of secret negotiations in Norway. Rogers's densely packed, fact-based drama gives us a fascinating fly-on-the-wall view of those painstakingly delicate talks.
It all started with a Norwegian sociologist and his diplomat wife; Terje Rød-Larsen and Mona Juul felt that if the Israelis and Palestinians could relate to each other on a personal level, they could possibly find common ground for peace; a seemingly impossible task since it was illegal for Israeli government officials to even speak with PLO members. Undaunted, the couple established back channel negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian representatives, and over several nail-biting months, meeting in a secret Oslo location, they hammered out an agreement that eventually brought in the big Israeli guns to complete the deal.
If this sounds awfully plodding, it is anything but. Under Bartlett Sher's taut direction, the wise and witty three-hour drama unfolds like a political thriller. Complex yes, but Sher's superlative production immerses us in the suspenseful twists and turns that yielded the unimaginable: mortal enemies become friends.
The 14-member ensemble returns intact from the Off-Broadway production. Playing 21 characters, they embody the roles with even more authenticity now. Accents are sharper, and the real-life impersonations are spot on. I do have to single out Michael Aronov and Anthony Azizi as the charismatically pugnacious Palestinian and Israeli negotiators. And Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays, in the less colorful roles as the well-intentioned peace brokers, are simply world-class.
Besides turning an historic event into high-brow entertainment, "Oslo" is impressively even-handed. Both sides emerge proudly arrogant, yet desperate for peace. And while that peace didn't last, this excellent play offers hope that history can once again repeat itself.