When I originally saw the J.T. Rogers play “Oslo” at the off-Broadway Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, I expressed sadness at how elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians still was all these years after the 1993 peace accord at the White House. “Oslo” brilliantly dramatizes the back story said to have led up to the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The two sides are regrettably now even further apart as “Oslo” has reopened at the Broadway-categorized Vivian Beaumont Theater. The excitement of the play is even greater played out on a larger stage, with mostly the same cast continuing to be energized by the subject matter and the colorfully drawn characterizations, as well as by the intense, sweeping direction by Bartlett Sher.
At the dramatic ending in which dreams for future peace are voiced vociferously, one’s hopes are stirred, but the tempered recognition of the reality makes peace seem even further away than it was when I reviewed the play last July.
What is there to say about the drama that’s new? I could strain to re-write, but I feel it best to quote mostly what I originally wrote as follows, with some deletions:
It is challenging to say the least to portray bigwigs gathered in conferences to thrash out thorny international problems and hold audience attention for three hours. The miracle of “Oslo”...is that the give-and-take efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement burst with excitement throughout and make an intellectual theme come vividly alive. “Oslo” is the weightiest play around at the moment but also the most dramatic.
What Rogers does, based on his research, is explore the back story of negotiations that ultimately led to the 1993 handshake in the Rose Garden of the White House between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Neither shows up in the play, but Rogers depicts the tense negotiations by their emissaries in Oslo, Norway between April, 1992 and September, 1993. The playwright has made it clear that although the characters and events are based on fact, the words they speak spring from his imagination.
The working out of the Oslo Accords is facilitated by Norwegian Terje Rød-Larsen, director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences, brilliantly played by versatile actor Jefferson Mays, and his wife, Mona Juul, an official in Norway’s Foreign Ministry, intriguingly portrayed with unyielding determination by Jennifer Ehle, who also has the task of stepping forward periodically to explain events to the audience.
Those meeting regard the facilitating couple as bystanders, which they essentially are. The heavyweights who argue vehemently and flash their individual personalities include Anthony Azizi as Ahmen Qurie, P.L.O. Finance Minister; Dariush Kashani as Hassan Asfour, Official P.L.O. Liason with the Palestinian Delegation at multilateral U.S.-sponsored talks; Daniel Oreskes as Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister; Adam Danniheisser as Yossi Beilin, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister; Michael Aronov as Uri Savir, Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Joseph Siravo as Joel Singer [At the new performance I saw the role still usually performed by Siravo was well-played by Jeff Still] as an influential Jewish Washington lawyer. All of the acting is first-rate.
Those cited above, and other cast members, move about frequently, which keeps the play lively....In addition there is the accomplishment of Michael Yeargan’s set design, a simple classic space in which furniture is slid swiftly in and out to provide variety to the scenes. At times there are also background projections to tie the negotiations to goings-on elsewhere. Production elements are unified with the overall effect of giving the drama impetus and importance.
After all the furor, the infighting, the battles over what to do about territory and Jerusalem, and the sense of triumph at having gotten any kind of an agreement at all, cast members step forward to tell what has happened since…The pleasure of having seen a top-notch drama gives way to sadness. But what we have witnessed still leaves hope that others may one day succeed in the spirit of what happened in Oslo. Now at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 22, 2017.