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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The very welcome re-opening, with its cast intact, makes it a deserving and likely candidate for the Best Play Tony award. It certainly make Jefferson Mays one of New York's busiest actors. He hardly had time to catch his breath after Oslo's closing at the Mitzi Newhouse before joining Nathan Lane in a revival of The Front Page at the Broadhurst Theater. Fortunately, this was a limited run and thus enabled him to reprise his role as facilitator at the behind-the-scenes talks leading to the Oslo Agreements. Of course, for May who had no trouble playing 7 roles in one play, the long running A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, jumping from role to role, and excelling each time is par for this actor.
The good news is that all the actors in the cast are once again in top form and the production now at the Vivian Beaumont is gripping as ever. It's even more meaningful now that a new administration has yet to prove its competence at the negotiating table.
Since this is the same production I previously reviewed, what follows is an edited version of that review.
Having seen several of J. T. Rogers' plays ( The Overwhelming, Madagascar, White People), I was familiar with his penchant for turning politically volatile global issues into exciting dramas, I went to see Oslo in its first permutation with great anticipation. His Blood and Gifts , which also played at the Mitzi Newhouse, used a CIA operative in Afghanistan to most effectively merge Front Line and spy thriller genres. And so, Rogers' dramatization of the 1993 Oslo Accords, a diplomatically brokered agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, seemed like a most promising follow up. And so it was! I found Oslo to be the best play of the season.
Worthy but wearying and depressing as a drama about a peace agreement that failed to live up to its promise may sound, it definitely isn't. Mr. Rogers has once again created a fact-based but highly original drama that's as entertaining and suspenseful as it is informative and thought provoking.
Sure, it's talky and long, but as written Mr. Rogers, staged with dynamic simplicity by Bartlett Sher and with fourteen top drawer actors to bring twenty-one historic characters to vivid life, the three hours simply fly by. The two intermissions will more than likely make you eager for them to end and all that very witty talk to continue. (Actually, one of the few noticeable changes is the omission of one intermission).
The play focuses on the little known back story of the secret diplomacy game that preceded the well documented signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn. Whether you're old enough to remember the images of the never before coming together of Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yassir Arafat, you're unlikely to have heard of the two Norwegians who spearheaded the diplomatic chess game preceding that event — diplomat Mona Juul and her husband, sociologist Terje Rod Larsen.
Juhl and Larsen as portrayed by the unfailingly watchable Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays (He played the spy in Blood and Gifts) are the key characters. The way Oslo the play came to make Juul and Larsen the unsung heroes of the heretofore unknown back story of the Oslo Accords is in itself an intriguing back story within the one on stage.
It seems that director Bartlett Sher and the Norwegians were at one time friends and neighbors with daughters attending the same school. After hearing about how they facilitated almost a year of these secret back-channel meetings between Palestinians and Israelis Sher, who'd directed Blood and Gifts, smelled a play to bring Rogers back to Lincoln Center. And so, as Juul and Larsen facilitated get-togethers for people who'd never been in the same room before, Sher facilitated Rogers' access to interviews with Juul and Larsen from which to create this riveting mew drama.
It's the urgent need of these matchmakers who enabled people actually forbidden to meet to get to know each other away from the limelight that imbues Oslo with its ever escalating tension and thriller sensibility. Initially this secrecy even included their own countrymen, as evident from the opening scene — a dinner with Juhl's quick to explode boss, Norway's foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst (the as always excellent T. Ryder Smith) and his wife Marianne (Henny Russell).
From the Israeli side we have the shrewd Deputy Foreign Minister Y0ssi Belin (Adam Dannheisser); two initially important, non-official University of Haifa professors, Yair Hirschfeld and Ron Pundak ((Daniel Oreskes and Ron Pundak) adding a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern touch to their roles; the Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, Uri Savir (an aptly obnoxious but charismatic Michael Aronov) who shoves them to the sidelines. Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo), a high profile lawyer based in Washington DC arrives late in the game to insist on exhausting changes to make the agreement more specific.
This effort to make peace between long time arch enemies is serious business. Fortunately Rogers knows how to enliven and humanize this fraught situation with humor through the combination of conversational social meetings that Larsen insists must precede their negotiations. The first meeting between Azizi's Ahmed Qurie and Oreske's Hirschfeld is deliciously awkward. When the negotions begin, they do frequently turn into screaming matches
Director Sher's clever and sly use of double casting further makes all that takes place so enormously entertaining. One of the most amusing examples of this is having T. Ryder Smth and Henny Russell morph from their roles as the Norwegian minister and his wife into the groundskeeper and cook at the Borregaard Estate outside of Oslo where some of the meetings are held. Daniel Oreskes, also makes an amusing reappearance as Shimon Peres after his other character is relegated to unrecognized minor player status. Michael Aronov's Uri Savir adds a nice comic touch with his impersonations of Henry Kissinger and Yitzhak_Rabin.
The production's pleasures also owe much to , Michael Yeargan's minimalist but frequent locatíon changing scenery and Catherine Zuber's costumes. The projections by 59 Productions that expand our view of this fascinating story.
The play, now settled into its larger home until June 18th, is highly recommended now as it was last year. I'm probably hoping against hope that our tweet-oriented President an new Secretary of State will make time to see it and pick up some tips about dealing with the intricacies of global diplomacy.
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Oslo by J. T. Rogers
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Cast of Characters (n order of appearance): Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays), Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), Marianne Heilberg (Henny Russell), Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith), Yossi Beilin (Adam Dannheisser), Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), Yair Hiarschfeld (Daniel Oreskes), Jan Egeland(Daniel Jenkins), Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins), Finn Grandal (T. Ryder Smith), Toril Grandal (Henny Russell), American Diplomat (Christopher McHale), Uri Savie (Michael Aronov), Trond Gundersen (Jeb Krieger), Thor Bjornevog (Christopher McHale), Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo), German Husband (Jeb Krieger), German Wife (Angela Pierce), Shimon Peres (Daniel Oreskes), Swedishs Hostess (Henny Russell)
Sets by Michael Yeargan
Costumes by Catherine Zuber
Lighting by Donald Holder
Sound by Peter John Still
Projections by 59 Productions
Stage Manager: Cambra Overend
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 55 minutes, 1 intermission
Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont Theater 150 West 65th
From 3/23/17; opening 4/13/17; closing 7/16/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
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