Yesterday was a two-show day for us Broadway kids. In the evening we made our way to Lincoln Center to take in J.T. Rogers' Oslo. Directed by Bartlett Sher, this ambitious, sprawling multi-character play tells the story of the back-channel talks initiated by a Norwegian husband and wife diplomatic couple that eventually led to the 1993 peace accord signed by Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat.
A talky intellectual play that, in the manner of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen and Democracy, imagines all that goes on behind the scenes in the foreign policy we read bout in history books or watch on CNN, Oslo is also surprisingly suspenseful. Indeed, one of the delights of Rogers' play--which certainly does not in any way dumb down the complexity of the negotiations--is the breakneck pace that is kept up over the course of the work's nearly three-hour running time. You are literally on the edge of your seat as you watch with what mix of charm and strategic subterfuge Terje Rod-Larsen and Mona Juul (the terrific--and terrifically in sync--Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle) first cajole the Israeli and Palestinian representatives to the table, and then strive to keep them there. You can't help rooting for them to succeed.
But, of course, the play is also being staged in the wake of the more or less wholesale collapse of what the Oslo accord was meant to enact. This Rogers addresses in a bittersweet coda, in which we learn via successive addresses out to the audience (a conceit used throughout the play) not just of the fate of the various Israeli, Palestinian, and Norwegian backstage players in the whole peace process, but also of Rod-Larsen and Juul's own ambivalent feelings on what they did and did not accomplish. That husband and wife are themselves not in absolute accord on this point attests both to the difficulty of the interpersonal approach to peace they were attempting to enact in 1993, and also, in 2017, to why such an approach may be more relevant than ever.