Oslo (Mitzi Newhouse)

t.Oslo.a

t.Oslo.h

t.Oslo.i

oslo-bb

Excerpts from reviews

“Unequivocally fascinating . . . a striking production of a compelling drama, with a flawlessly cast ensemble . . . “ – Marilyn Stasio, Variety

“I confess I was groaning at the prospect of a three-hour drama about the Oslo Accords . . . but Rogers’ drama artfully locates the human story in a delicate account of political diplomacy. This is a richly insightful play about culturally diverse people — Norwegians, Israelis, Palestinians — discovering deep-rooted shared desires and personal affinities. . . . It’s virtually impossible to single out any one performance, since the ensemble works with an uncanny combination of cohesion, sensitivity and efficiency. . . . This is a play alive with tension, intrigue, humor, bristling intelligence and emotional peaks that are subdued yet intensely moving, which concludes unexpectedly on a poignant note of hope.” – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“Crackling theater . . . a vivid, thoughtful and astonishingly lucid account of a byzantine chapter in international politics . . . “ – Ben Brantley, The New York Times

“Gripping, provocative, wrenching, funny and altogether riveting. . . . The cast is remarkable on just about all sides; with so much doubling, it’s difficult to play favorites. . . Mr. Mays and Ms. Ehle are surrounded by a marvelous ensemble, including Anthony Azizi and Darisuh Kashani (as the Palestinian negotiators), Mr. Jenkins, Daniel Oreskes and Adam Dannheisser (as Israeli negotiators), T. Ryder Smith as the Norwegian Foreign Minister and Henny Russell as his wife . . . “ – Steven Suskind, Huffington Post

“A fact-based but highly original drama that’s as entertaining and suspenseful as it is informative and thought provoking. . . . The best play I’ve seen all year. . . . Staged with dynamic simplicity by Bartlett Sher and with fourteen top drawer actors . . . Mays and Ehle are unfailingly watchable . . . Norway’s foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst  is played by the as-always excellent T. Ryder Smith . . . “ – Elyse Sommer, Curtain Up

“A dazzling drama . . . Bartlett Sher, a master of casting, has picked an absolutely perfect ensemble . . .  T. Ryder Smith is very effective as the hot-headed Norwegian Foreign Minister . . . “ – Brian Scott Lipton, Cititour.com

 

Rehearsals

oslo-reh-ab

oslo-reh-ac

oslo-reh-afoslo-reh-adoslo-reh-j

oslo-reh-hoslo-reh-iioslo-reh-goslo-reh-loslo-reh-koslo-reh-ooslo-reh-noslo-reh-ae

 

 

Publicity

t.Oslo.j

Offstage

oslo-opening-bb

oslo-opening-d

oslo-opening-c

oslo-reh-x

Full reviews

Hollywood Reporter, David RooneyThe terrific new political thriller Oslo begins with actors scurrying about the stage positioning props and furniture, as one key figure played by Jefferson Mays arranges people within the space while another, portrayed by Jennifer Ehle, breaks the fourth wall early on to elucidate character and background information. One remarkable aspect of this very fine production, directed with unerringly precise attention to detail by Bartlett Sher, is that while its mechanics as a theatrical presentation are emphasized from the start, they enhance rather than impede our involvement in a fascinating true story. This is a play alive with tension, intrigue, humor, bristling intelligence and emotional peaks that are subdued yet intensely moving, which concludes unexpectedly on a poignant note of hope.
None of that should be surprising given that the playwright is J.T. Rogers, who has made a specialty out of distilling politically fraught global conflict situations into briskly compelling, lucid stage narratives. In his 2006 drama, The Overwhelming, he looked at Americans in Rwanda, as the African nation was on the brink of a genocidal civil war; and in 2011, in this same Lincoln Center Theater venue with the same director, he undertook a probing examination of American involvement in Afghanistan in Blood and Gifts.
One character in Oslo observes that, “Americans cannot stand it when others take the lead,” while earlier on another notes that the U.S. government is especially proprietary about its relationship with the Middle East. That makes American foreign policy a wryly marginalized factor in this drama, right up to the climactic moment in 1993 when President Bill Clinton looked on as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat came together in the White House Rose Garden in a landmark accord in which the two opposing sides recognized one another’s legitimacy for the first time.
Of course, the continuing violence that followed, including Rabin’s assassination by an Israeli extremist, demonstrated the limits of the agreement. But the play nonetheless provides an emotionally charged account of the event as a giant step that had been inconceivable during the 45 years of bitter conflict that preceded it.
I confess I was groaning at the prospect of a three-hour drama about the Oslo Accords, as the nine months of secret back-channel talks in Norway that led to the 1993 agreement are known. But in much the same way that Terje Rod-Larsen (Mays), the director of an applied social sciences institute, and his wife, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry official Mona Juul (Ehle), saw a way to facilitate productive discussions by introducing the personal into a decades-long standoff between two implacable adversaries, Rogers’ drama artfully locates the human story in a delicate account of political diplomacy. This is a richly insightful play about culturally diverse people — Norwegians, Israelis, Palestinians — discovering deep-rooted shared desires and personal affinities.
The sheer volume of them — there are at least 15 substantial characters representing the three nationalities and several more minor figures — at first seems dizzying. But without dumbing anything down, Rogers, Sher and their faultless cast deliver maximum clarity as well as urgency, drawing out the distinct personalities with great nuance and a considerable amount of wit. In many ways, Oslo recalls another complex drama that takes its title from a Scandinavian city where momentous talks took place, Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen.
Given the illegality at the time of Israeli and Palestinian leaders sitting down at the same table, the subterfuge required to pull off any kind of meeting is mind-blowing, even in remote Oslo. The key to international conflict negotiation, Terje notes, is to think not in terms of Totalism but of Gradualism. Just getting the go-ahead to begin the process requires some crafty maneuvering from Terje and Mona with her prickly boss at the Foreign Ministry, Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith), whose acerbic wife Marianne (Henny Russell) works for Terje.
But if the Norwegians are tricky, navigating the concerns of the Israelis is even more difficult. Yossi Beilin (Adam Dannheisser), a rising star of the Israeli Labor Party, orchestrates his country’s participation, sending two rumpled economics professors from Haifa, Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes) and Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins), as his representatives. Over Johnnie Walker and Jewish jokes, they help smooth the way to a civil rapport with Palestinian Finance Minister Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), a proud, indignant man known to his friends as Abu Ala; and PLO liaison Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), a hard-line, Moscow-style Marxist given to fiery tirades and dour maxims.
Some of the most captivating scenes involve the two sides’ interactions with Toril Grandal (the invaluable Russell again), the housekeeper and cook at Borregaard Castle, where the talks take place. (Smith plays her groundsman husband in another example of the production’s slyly amusing double-casting.) The rapture that spreads among the guests while savoring Toril’s family waffle recipe is the kind of enchantment that obscures age-old frictions.
When the Palestinians demand that the Israelis upgrade to representatives with actual political clout, the drama’s most dynamic character enters: Director General of the Foreign Ministry Uri Savir, played with take-charge swagger and sexual magnetism to spare by the hilarious Michael Aronov (FX’s The Americans). Savir and Qurie prove to be opposite sides of the same coin, and a quiet walk they take together in the snow on the Borregaard estate following an outburst is among the play’s most affecting interludes. With Foreign Minister Shimon Peres (Oreskes again) pulling strings from back home, the Israelis then call in Washington, D.C.-based lawyer Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo), a gruff bulldog who had written the military rules of engagement used by the Zionist army to crush the Palestinians.
While Aronov is a kick, it’s virtually impossible to single out any one performance, since the ensemble works with an uncanny combination of cohesion, sensitivity and efficiency. It helps that Rogers has spread around the choicest dialogue, giving every major character his or her fair share. There are moments of anxiety when both the Israelis and Palestinians appear to question Terje’s motives, but that suspicion is quickly defused with teasing laughter, even if the suggestion remains in Mays’ grandiloquent turn that a hunger for personal glory played some part in his urge to make a difference. The wonderful Ehle, on the other hand, is the very essence of diplomatic purpose and poise; her dismissal of her guests’ attempts at flattery and flirtation is priceless.
Over the play’s three acts, the stakes are continually heightened, with Mona interjecting quick accounts of external world events impacting the talks, which Sher expertly illustrates using sharp video elements. The sense of time passing, and moods darkening and lifting, is also conveyed in Donald Holder’s exquisite lighting, which continually transforms a spare, gray-walled set by Michael Yeargan containing just a few pieces of tasteful antique furnishings — all burnished wood and plush upholstery. Perhaps the key visual element is a door.
In the opening scene, Terje asks why Norway, a country that maintains good diplomatic relations with both sides, shouldn’t attempt to make peace in the Middle East. Marianne replies, “Because it’s the Middle East, Terje. They don’t do peace.” Rogers acknowledges throughout that this view is shared by most of the world, including by the two sides weary of killing one another’s children. Nonetheless, in the beautiful monologue from Terje that closes this contemplative, admirably even-handed play, he invites us to consider not the ongoing impasse of blood and fear and hatred, but the expansive sense of possibility that the Oslo Accords represent. The simple final image of gentle light flooding through a half-open doorway speaks stirring volumes. 7.11.16

Associated Press, Jennifer Farrar – Humor allays tension to complex history in ‘Oslo’. “Oslo,” a new play by J.T. Rogers directed by Bartlett Sher, is a riveting political thriller with a personal approach.
It features tense, behind-the-scenes dialogue that might have occurred during top-secret peace negotiations that took place in 1992-1993 between representatives of two bitterly sworn enemies, the state of Israel and then-terrorist group the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Such is the skill of the production that opened Monday night at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center that we feel caught up in real negotiations of the so-called Oslo Accord, although the top-notch ensemble is deftly portraying both real people and invented characters.Based on inside information provided by the real-life Norwegian facilitators in Oslo, diplomat Mona Juul and her husband Terje Rod-Larsen (admirably portrayed by the ever-luminous Jennifer Ehle and a lively Jefferson Mays), Rogers and Sher use impressive compression to present a multitude of possible behind-the-scenes interactions that eventually produced the first ever peace agreement between Israel and the P.L.O.Darkly humorous comments permeate the tense conversations, arguments, impossible rifts and grudging compromises that play out in swiftly-paced scenes, interrupted by two intermissions that give the audience a chance to shake off the tension before the pressure ratchets upward again. Projections of grainy newsreel footage from that time remind us of the real-life, deadly turmoil ongoing between the two sides.Frequent impasses are smoothed over by the amazing persuasive powers of Juul and Larsen, which Ehle in particular conveys with saintly irony. She also narrates the story, informing the audience where we are as multiple short scenes take place in various locations. Aftermaths of discord are eased with liquor and the culinary output of an excellent cook.As the two primary Palestinian negotiators, living in exile and outnumbered as the Israeli team expands, Anthony Azizi brings dignity and wry humor to Abu Ala, while Dariush Kashani provides much-needed comic relief when his character, Hassan Asfour, stiffly spouts Communist propaganda. Daniel Oreskes and Daniel Jenkins are humbly sturdy as a pair of Israeli economics professors who initially represent their country in the secret talks, while Oreskes also brings weary gravitas to his portrayal of Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres.The talents of cast and crew in “Oslo” make a complex historical event feel understandable, intimate and profoundly affecting. 7.11.16

Variety, Marilyn Stasio – What would it take to get you to Lincoln Center Theater to see a three-hour political drama about the 1993 peace treaty between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization known as the Oslo Accords? I doubt this review is going to do it, which is really a shame, because “Oslo,” a new drama by J.T. Rogers, is unequivocally fascinating.  Would that some playwright would write as gripping a play about some contemporary political issue.  But again, who would go to see it?
LCT subscribers should know how lucky they are, having the opportunity to see director Bartlett Sher’s striking production of this compelling drama. Heading the flawlessly cast ensemble are Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle as the Norwegian tacticians who pull off the incredible coup of getting high-level officials from Israel and the PLO in the same room and actually talking with one another.
Terje Rod-Larsen (Mays) is the inspired and somewhat excitable academic who dares to reach out to the Israelis to start the delicate and dangerous process of these secret negotiations. Terje is a fussy fellow who dresses so well (costumer Catherine Zuber scores again) and whose manners are so refined that Yitzak Rabin insists on referring to him as a Frenchman. Mona Juul (Ehle), his wife and the narrator of the dramatic events, is the even-tempered government diplomat who does whatever has to be done — from ordering the liquor to putting out emotional fires — to make it happen.
“It’s a very small country,” Mona says to the audience, graciously explaining the extremely tight personal and political relationships. “We take nepotism to an entirely new level.” No, that’s not a one-off quip.  Rogers’ (“Blood and Gifts”) clever dialogue really is that witty. You get the facts, but you get them delivered with intelligence and humor by this dream of a cast.  It’s the petty stuff — the pseudonyms, the clandestine phone calls, the drinking competitions, and all the other trappings of macho bravado — that makes these intimidating characters so human. And so funny.
Michael Yeargan’s scenic design and 59 Productions’ projections of constantly breaking battles makes it clear that neutral Norway aspires to be a very soothing nation in a world gone mad. The walls of the classically designed meeting rooms are painted in a restful shade of grayish blue, the furniture is comfortable, and everyone gets exactly the same kind of chair to throw across the room in a rage.
But once the principals meet each other face-to-face for the first time, we might as well be in the blood-splattered ring of a cockfight. In that spirit, Rogers smartly allows all parties to attack their counterparts with a vengeance, drawing on generations of historical grievances. It actually takes three acts, which fly by like hours spent at the circus, to make these mortal enemies calm down enough to listen honestly to one another and acknowledge that they have more in common than they would ever admit.
The impeccable casting of these superbly drawn characters acknowledges their individual differences, as well as the common humanity that ultimately wins out.  Representing the Israelis, Shimon Peres (Daniel Oreskes) is the soul of statesmanship, while his right arm man, Yossi Beilin (Adam Dannheisser) growls like the Russian Communist bear he is. The third member of their group, the swaggering director general of the foreign ministry Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), is the star power, a dashing fellow who wears his floor-length leather coat like a movie star.
The Israelis are the comedians, deadly serious, but always calculating how to disarm their enemies. When given the stage, they stun their PLO counterparts by telling  jokes — which leaves the Palestinians to draw on their own ancient tongue and to play the poets.  No wonder it takes these guys three acts to find a common language.
The PLO finance minister Ahmed Ourie, known as Abu Ala, is a riveting presence in Anthony Azizi’s wrenching performance. Not to give too much away, because the play is constructed very much as a suspense drama, but it’s a jaw-dropping moment when the Norwegians realize that Ourie’s hushed phone calls home, asking for permission to make deals, are all a sham. The man is acting entirely on his own, which could mean his life.
Such moments, in fact, are what director Sher draws on to make “Oslo” so compulsively watchable. The moment when two of the men realize they have given their daughters the same name; when the private talk turns to fathers; when the Palestinians try to top an Israeli joke (can’t be done, but please recite another poem); when one man puts a friendly hand on another’s shoulder and they go for a walk together; when they toast each other for their “constructive ambiguity.” And in the end, when the searing image of a handshake of peace between two enemies makes the entire audience gasp.
This is what we call drama, and it’s what we live for.  So, go, already — live! 7.11.16

New York Times, Ben Brantley – A Byzantine Path to Middle East Peace in ‘Oslo’. The Aaron Burr of the musical “Hamilton” — who stews over being shut out of pivotal closed-door conferences — isn’t the only person who wants to be in the room where it happens. It’s hard not to envy the witnesses to history in the making and to imagine attending conferences, Zelig-like, in Versailles, Vienna or Potsdam. J. T. Rogers shares that instinct. Unlike most of you, he has acted on it. Having combined investigative zeal and theatrical imagination with insider access, Mr. Rogers now invites you into the chambers where the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were forged during nine fraught months in 1993.
Even if you never thought about traveling to Norway, you’ll probably want to visit the inevitably titled “Oslo,” the absorbing drama by Mr. Rogers that opened on Monday night at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. At a very full three hours, with many international stops, this play is long and dense enough to make you wonder if you should have packed an overnight bag.
Yet what Mr. Rogers and the director, Bartlett Sher, have created is a streamlined time machine, comfortably appointed enough to forestall jet lag. Centering on one Norwegian couple who improbably initiated the diplomatic back channel that led to the epochal meeting of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the P.L.O leader Yasir Arafat at the White House, “Oslo” affectingly elicits the all-too-human factor in the weary machinations of state policy.
That couple is Mona Juul, then an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, and her husband, Terje Rod-Larsen, who was director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences. They are friends, as it happens, of Mr. Sher, who in turn introduced them to Mr. Rogers, who interviewed them extensively before writing this play.
You might expect “Oslo” to have a self-servingly limited perspective. But as he demonstrated in his earlier plays about international politics, including “The Overwhelming” and “Blood and Gifts,” Mr. Rogers doesn’t traffic in superheroes.
His well-intentioned interventionists in foreign lands often turn out to be ambivalent fumblers in the manner of Graham Greene’s protagonists. “Oslo” doesn’t have the layers of complexity (and the respect for what we can’t know) of Michael Frayn’s great, similarly speculative you-are-there dramas “Copenhagen” and “Democracy.” But it’s a vivid, thoughtful and astonishingly lucid account of a byzantine chapter in international politics.
Mona and Terje are (spoiler) more successful in their endeavors than Mr. Rogers’s previous versions of such characters, at least in terms of immediate goals. But as embodied by (hooray!) Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays, they are complicated beings in a less-than-perfect marriage with a sometimes faltering grasp of the international time bomb they have set ticking.
Well, perhaps not Mona, who always keeps her head and manages repeatedly to pluck victory from the jaws of disaster. But Mona has the advantages, as well as the disadvantages, of often being the only woman in the room; and she has the unqualified advantage of being played by the irresistible Ms. Ehle (the definitive BBC version of “Pride and Prejudice,” the 2000 Broadway revival of “The Real Thing”), who manages to be practically perfect without turning into Mary Poppins.
It is Mona who serves as our wryly neutral narrator, sliding briefly and fluidly out of the action to place us on timelines and annotate references. She and Terje have been ingeniously conceived as perpetual, generally gracious hosts to the play itself and to the social encounters within, pouring drinks, moving furniture and overseeing the seating arrangements on Michael Yeargan’s elegant, minimalist set.
Of course, the gatherings they preside over have astronomically higher stakes than those of an average cocktail party. When the play begins, a dinner at Mona and Terje’s home is interrupted by a phone call — two, actually, and simultaneous. It’s Israel on one line and the P.L.O. on the other. The couple’s guests, the Norwegian foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith) and his wife, Marianne Heiberg (Henny Russell), are not pleased when Terje explains his goal of secretly bringing irreconcilable adversaries to the bargaining table.
“The world is cracking open,” says the blazing-eyed Terje, who has a habit of sounding like Tony Kushner in “Angels in America” when he is excited. (Mr. Mays, a Tony winner for “I Am My Own Wife,” expertly elicits the brazen but uneasy showboat in Terje.) Holst is skeptical and alarmed. That’s a response that Terje and Mona will continue to encounter in many forms. And the play’s rhythms are dictated by the couple’s repeated overcoming of resistance.
I leave it to historians to confirm or dispute the accuracy of Mr. Rogers’s portrayals. But he has done a fine job of mapping the lively, confusing intersection where private personalities cross with public roles. The supporting ensemble members, some of whom are double-cast, create credibly idiosyncratic portraits, right down to the two-man security detail (Christopher McHale and Jeb Kreager) that arrives in the show’s second half.
Only occasionally does the script resort to the telegraphic shorthand of cute, defining quirks. The relationships that emerge from within and between the opposing camps are steeped in a poignant multifacetedness, as sworn enemies find themselves tentatively speaking the language of friendship. This is most eloquently embodied by Uri Savir, an Israeli cabinet member portrayed juicily by Michael Aronov as an exuberant rock-star dignitary, and Ahmed Qurie , the P.L.O. finance minister played with a careful balance of wariness and warmth by Anthony Azizi.
The cast also memorably includes Daniel Oreskes and Daniel Jenkins as a pair of Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-ish academics from Haifa; Adam Dannheisser as an Israeli foreign minister with digestive problems; Joseph Siravo as a hard-line Jewish lawyer; and Dariush Kashani as a hard-line Marxist Palestinian. Mr. Oreskes also shows up as Shimon Peres. But the most famous power players in this drama, Rabin and Arafat, never appear, at least not in the flesh.
However, at various points, different characters do imitations of the more famous politicians who remain in the wings. The ways in which these impersonations evolve, and the responses they provoke, create some of the play’s tensest and funniest moments.
It’s no secret that politicians have to be actors, which the characters in “Oslo” well know. Their understanding and re-creation of the signature styles of allies and enemies make for unexpected moments of personal catharsis and illumination. They also happen to be the stuff of crackling theater. 7.11.16

Huffington Post, Steven Suskind – You might well think that a three-hour drama about the 1993 Israeli/Palestinian peace talks will be historically and intellectually worthy but not especially gripping. Think again. J. T. Roger’s Oslo is gripping, provocative, wrenching, funny and altogether riveting. Head up to Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi Newhouse, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat. Rogers does not set himself an easy task. With the “official” peace talks between the two parties ineffectually stalled (in part because the American-led negotiations excluded representatives from the Palestine Liberation Organization, which left them without the people who controlled the Gaza Strip), Norwegian sociologist Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) and his diplomat-wife Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle) decide—for humanitarian reasons—to try to arrange secret, back-channel peace talks. They invite a P.L.O. minister and two Israeli economics professors to meet in a rented house in Oslo; no aides, no hotels, no security, an operation so low-profile that they shepherd the men around in rental cars. The talks, needless to say, are treacherous; but a bond is set. As much as the parties hate each other, both are looking for a solution to an impossible situation they are forced to live within.
The talks start in 1992 and continue in several stages over a year (and three acts), culminating in the landmark accord which was publically signed in 1993 at the Clinton White House and which won the Nobel Prize for Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. (Only Peres was directly involved and literally “in the room where it happens,” to borrow a phrase from some American songwriter, but there are humorously unflattering cameos of Rabin, Arafat and Henry Kissinger).
This calls for numerous scenes with argumentative men sitting across a table, yes; but matters and ideas move so swiftly that the play flies by far quicker than some eighty-minute one-acts we can name. Rogers spins his tale with twenty-one interlocking characters (played by fourteen actors), and it turns out to be a wildly suspenseful and sometimes dangerous ride.
Credit rests equally with Lincoln Center Theater resident director Bartlett Sher, who not only provides a highly effective and swiftly moving production but personally instigated the play. (While directing Rogers’ Blood and Gifts at LCT in 2012, Sher broached the idea of a play to his friend Terje—then based in New York, their daughters attending the same school—and invited Rogers to write it.) Rogers was instantly intrigued with the idea of exploring “a hidden history that lies behind the public history.” The complex negotiations have been somewhat sculpted into stageworthy fashion, which means that the characters are real although the words come from the playwright.
The cast is remarkable on just about all sides; with so much doubling, it’s difficult to play favorites. (Actors like Daniel Jenkins are thoroughly convincing, and often unrecognizable, in their different guises.) The central role is undertaken by Mr. Mays, most recently of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, who has continually given impressive performances since he burst upon the Broadway scene in 2003 with I Am My Own Wife. Mays, Rogers and Sher build this character into the consummate insider—the talks are held under his auspices, initially without the knowledge of even the Norwegian government—but at the same time an outsider looked upon as a dilettante by the participants, with at times violent repercussions. The dignity and integrity Mays brings is central to the success of the play. He is matched by Ehle (from LCT’s The Coast of Utopia), who grounds the play and grounds the talks. Rogers gives her what might be the essential speech of the evening—something that in a musical would be considered the eleven o’clock number—and Ehle makes it into a dramatic highpoint.They are surrounded by a marvelous ensemble, including Anthony Azizi and Darisuh Kashani (as the Palestinian negotiators), Mr. Jenkins, Daniel Oreskes and Adam Dannheisser (as Israeli negotiators), T. Ryder Smith as the Norwegian Foreign Minister and Henny Russell—the only female cast member other than Ehle—playing three roles with gusto.
Director Sher is accompanied, once again, by the design team (sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, lights by Donald Holder) that has served him so well on South Pacific, The King and I, Golden Boy and other entertainments. Their combined talents help make this play breeze by while the audience breathlessly hangs on. 7.11.16

Newsday, Linda Winer – Most everyone remembers the iconic photo of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands in the White House Rose Garden in 1993, with Bill Clinton holding the historic enemies in a solicitous almost-embrace after the signing of the Oslo Accords.
What hardly anyone knows, however, is that the real negotiations for the first-ever agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization had secretly been happening for more than a year in and around Norway, of all places, between people unknown to history and without meddling from the major — apparently clueless — big powers.
If that improbable fact fascinates you, so probably will “Oslo” — J.T. Rogers’ ambitious three-hour, fact-based fiction that director Bartlett Sher and his creative team (“South Pacific,” “The King and I”) have lovingly, painstakingly staged at Lincoln Center Theater’s Off-Broadway Newhouse.
The political making of sausage is legendarily not a pretty sight. It is also pretty talky. Still, Rogers, Sher and their generous, marvelous cast do much to lighten the agonizing back-and-forth of the rogue operation with convivial unlikely scenes of eating, joking and drinking among fierce adversaries.
There is a plot-driven cinematic quality, much as there was to Rogers’ “Blood and Gifts.” In that 2011 drama, also directed by Sher, Rogers explored America’s covert involvement in the Soviet Union’s war with Afghanistan in a play that may have worked better as an action-packed espionage movie.
“Oslo,” despite its even-more complicated backstory, feels naturally theatrical. The spare, elegant rotunda set (by Michael Yeargan) transforms from city to city, room to room, by having actors roll in tasteful tables and chairs. A formal double door separates the serious talks from the casual mealtimes.
As we soon learn, this “back-channel” scheme is the brainstorm of a Danish diplomatic couple— Jefferson Mays (touchingly winsome) and Jennifer Ehle (gracefully no-nonsense). He is a sociologist with a theory about face-to-face, intimate negotiations without “road maps.” His wife, in real life now the Norwegian ambassador to the United Kingdom, was his student.
Thus, while official, big-power peace talks are getting nowhere, these unknown neutral parties have persuaded the PLO finance minister (Anthony Azizi, formidable and compelling) and a Marxist PLO official (Dariush Kashani, furious and funny) to participate. At the beginning, Israel sends two small-time academics (Daniel Jenkins and Daniel Oreskes, who doubles as former Israeli President Shimon Peres). As things progress, Peres sends a high-stakes player (Michael Aronov, insolent and full of life).
The meticulous work behind the short-lived accord leaves us even more hopeless about the world, but a bit more upbeat about the storytelling possibilities of the theater.

TimeOutNY, Adam Feldman – “You don’t make peace with the people you have dinner parties with,” says Terje Rød-Larsen (the plummy Jefferson Mays) to the Norwegian foreign minister, Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith). “You make peace with the people who bomb your markets and blow up your buses.” It is 1993, and Rød-Larsen, who runs a social-research foundation in Oslo, is explaining his hopes for back-channel talks he has secretly been facilitating between representatives of the State of Israel and of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who are officially forbidden from talking. His strategy, executed with help from his wife, Mona Juul (a radiantly self-effacing Jennifer Ehle), is to make the political personal by encouraging these sworn enemies to spend social time together—bonding over food, Scotch, family stories and delicious waffles—between their tense negotiations. Maybe dinner parties have a role in making peace after all.

The clandestine meetings depicted in J.T. Rogers’s informative and even-handed Oslo resulted in the 1993 Oslo Accords, famously sealed with a handshake between Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin and the P.L.O.’s Yasser Arafat. But neither of them appears in Oslo. Instead, we meet the people from the rooms where it actually happened. On the Palestinian side, they are Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), urbane and chain-smoking, and Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), a fiery Marxist. The Israelis include the young, brash Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), the implacable Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo) and a pair of haimish college professors played by Daniel Oreskes (who doubles as Israeli superdiplomat Shimon Peres) and Daniel Jenkins; Adam Dannheisser plays a key Israeli politician. Although the play is nearly three hours long, Bartlett Sher’s seamless cast of 14 keeps it from seeming dry, even when Rogers’s writing—fictionalized but often drawing very closely from published sources—slips into overt exposition.

The great breakthrough of the Oslo Accords was one of recognition: the P.L.O. recognizing Israel as a country, and Israel recognizing the P.L.O. as the voice of the Palestinian people. To get to that point, Oslo argues, the enemies first had to recognize themselves in each other. As Rogers suggests in a bittersweet coda, the Oslo legacy has not been one of unambiguous success. But as America and the world hurtle toward greater polarization, the play provides a small measure of hope. It’s about recognition, too, of what Rød-Larsen and Juul were able to build: a quaint lighthouse in the fog of war. 7.11.16

Village Voice, Miriam Felton-Dansky – Europe, 1993: a place where old structures were shaking loose and tectonic shift was under way. The Berlin Wall had fallen; the European Union was being born. And in a snowy northern corner of the continent, a group of diplomats was attempting to translate that sense of hope to a place where little had shifted in decades — Israel and Palestine — through the secret, back-channel negotiations that produced the now-famous Oslo Accords.

Knowing, now, how much darkness followed that celebrated Arafat-Rabin handshake on the White House lawn, it’s hard to remember the Oslo period without cynicism or dismay. But that’s what J.T. Rogers’s good-hearted, occasionally frustrating, three-hour epic, Oslo, attempts to do (the play is running at Lincoln Center, in a production directed by Bartlett Sher). Tracing the unfolding of clandestine negotiations orchestrated by Norwegian diplomats Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle) and Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays), Rogers immerses us in the everyday experience of diplomacy, capturing the tiny exchanges and painful, inching concessions necessary for either side to grasp the possibility of peace.Inspired by the real testimony of the Norwegian diplomats involved, Oslo is, at heart, a friendship saga, detailing the slow, unpredictable ways in which sworn enemies can warm to each other. Juul and Rød-Larsen invite unofficial representatives of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization to Oslo for direct talks: no intermediaries, no rules. These negotiators wield little real power — Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi) represents the PLO with Arafat’s dubious permission, while Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes), an Israeli economics professor, bumbles about with Yossi Beilin’s tacit OK. Still, over endless plates of waffles and salmon, through late nights, angry outbursts, and shared jokes, the men begin to sketch out a set of principles both sides might grudgingly accept.
In each of Rogers’s three acts, the tension slowly mounts, with Israel sending increasingly powerful negotiators to the table: In Act II, the foreign ministry’s flashy Uri Savir (Michael Aronov) replaces Hirschfeld, and in Act III, we meet the rumbly-voiced Shimon Peres himself (also played by Oreskes). Arafat, exiled in Tunis, emerges as a wordless presence during a late-night, eleventh-hour phone call: The Norwegians (and we) can’t hear his voice — only tears of wonder on our end of the line.
Theatrically, Oslo falls somewhat flat. Anxious to clarify the diplomatic intricacies, Rogers supplements his dialogue with repetitive direct-address narration, and between scenes, projected newsreel footage foists an insistent literalness onto a story whose high stakes are already clear. Toward the end — while acknowledging the decades of violence that came after Oslo — Rogers also works harder than necessary to demonstrate the historic nature of the Accords and the possibilities they could still represent. Most disappointingly, Oslo lends little depth to the Norwegian diplomats themselves, who — from altruism, a quest for power, or something else — worked desperately to resolve intractable conflicts in lands not their own.
Still, Oslo contains a form of thoughtful hope that is welcome in our own days of Brexit shock — as the Europe forged in the early Nineties is shifting again before our eyes. Rogers’s play testifies to the irreplaceable necessity of intimate conversation between apparent enemies, the unequaled power of listening, and the forceful change that shared company can produce: if not direct paths to peace, the consoling possibility of friendship. 7.12.16

The New Yorker, Hilton Als – Theatre—the best of it—is primarily a literary art; even a script that doesn’t have much dialogue is still bound by some kind of narrative. While directors and choreographers such as Judith Malina, Pina Bausch, Elizabeth LeCompte, and Robert Wilson put a lot of thought and energy into destabilizing texts—making verbiage just one sound in a landscape of visual and aural experimentation—storytelling, or, more specifically, the question of how to tell a story, is still a driving force in their work. Are words meaningful in and of themselves, these artists seem to ask, or are they valuable to an audience only when attached to plot? A number of productions around town right now raise similar questions, if unwittingly, since they’re helmed not by visionaries but by directors whose job it is to make conventionally structured entertainment exciting. “Oslo” (at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse) is a good, if overlong, piece of journalism-theatre—you know, a play that’s been “ripped from the headlines” or the history books, presumably to add heat and immediacy to the proceedings— but it has moments of strangeness that suggest what might have been had the playwright, J. T. Rogers, and his director, Bartlett Sher, been more interested in taking risks.
Where are we? Oslo, for the most part, in 1992 and 1993. Mona Juul and Terje Rød- Larsen (played by Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays, both of whom are killer in their roles) are forty-something Norwegian professionals, charming, erudite, full of talk. Not that they aren’t cognizant of when not to talk. After all, they’re diplomats, of a sort: Mona is an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, and Terje is a social scientist. The couple play host to everyone in the theatre, including the audience. Mona does most of the social heavy lifting, filling us in on another couple, who have come to call—Norway’s foreign minister, Johan Jørgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith), and his wife, Marianne Heiberg (Henny Russell, a standout in a small role), who works for Terje. The conversation turns to Israel, the wine flows, and tempers flare— inevitable, given how sad and frustrating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is. Will it ever be resolved? Is it a metaphor for all the conflicts in the world?
It was during this early scene—in which a sort of pantomime is enacted beneath Ehle’s beautiful voice and Mays’s restrained, often comic excitability—that I thought that Rogers and Sher might be on their way to making something that was more reflective of the times than the “truth,” a dissonant opera of talk and movement, lies and evasions and beliefs: the stuff of politics. But that isn’t, ultimately, Rogers’s kind of writing. Although he mixes fact and fiction (the real Terje’s daughter went to school with Sher’s daughter, and that connection was what got the project started), he uses reality not to buoy his imagination but to shore up a “Family of Man”- type plea to end war and hate.
After a while, we learn that, through some trick of faith and will, Terje and Mona were largely responsible, behind the scenes, for the discussions that led to the 1993 Oslo Accord, between the Israelis and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Their view was that, if they could entertain officials from both sides in an informal setting (while pulling them off the world stage), the arguments would dissipate and the two factions would come to an agreement about how to live together peacefully. Once all this is laid out, the predictable stuff starts piling up. The Israelis shout. The Palestinians shout. Meanwhile, images projected on the back wall of the stage illustrate how the hate continued during these secret negotiations: Israelis killed Palestinians; Palestinians killed Israelis. Sher’s characterizations can be a little weird sometimes—and not good weird. He plays up the Norwegian self-possession against all that hot-blooded Middle Eastern behavior, and, in his hands, both sides become stereotypes. (Luckily, Ehle and Mays are so attuned to the reality of their characters that they sidestep most of the dramaturgical mess, with the charm of a beautiful woman scraping shit off her heel.)

Before you know it, Bill Clinton is looking on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat stand smiling, shaking hands. That wasn’t the end of the story, of course, and, as the actors gather onstage, projections tell us what we already know: that the killing didn’t stop. Years pass, the dead accumulate, and Sher and Rogers drive home “Oslo” ’s ultimately banal point: that tolerance sometimes, just sometimes, begins with the nicest people. 8.1.16

Curtain Up, Elyse Sommer – Since I arrived early at Lincoln Center Wednesday night, I decided to spend some time in the lovely, shaded park outside the entrance to the theater where I was seeing J. T. Rogers’ Oslo. Reading a few chapters of the page-turning thriller novel in my ipad library seemed like a good way to gear up for seeing the world premiere of J. T. Rogers’ Oslo.
But don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean gearing up in the sense of relaxing with a bit of suspenseful reading before seeing a worthy but talky and somewhat boring dramatized slice of history. Having seen several of Mr. Rogers’ plays ( The Overwhelming, Madagascar, White People), I knew his penchant for turning politically volatile global issues into exciting dramas, and so I hoped my book would be a prelude to play with the same page-turning excitement
And I was right!
Blood and Gifts , which I also played at the Mitzi Newhouse used a CIA operative in Afghanistan to most effectively merge Front Line and spy thriller genres. With Oslo, a play about the 1993 Oslo Accords — a diplomatically brokered agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, he’s done it again.
And so, 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 probably could have been trimmed a bit. However, 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. I couldn’t wait for the two intermissions to end and all that very witty talk to continue.
Bottom Line: Oslo is not just J. T. Rogers’ best play, but the best play I’ve seen all year. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it won or was nominated for next year’s Pulitzer.
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.
Yet it’s Juhl and Larsen portrayed by the unfailingly watchable Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays (who also played the spy in Blood and Gifts) who are the Rogers’ key characters. The way Oslo, the play came to make Juul and the Larsen the unsung but well-deserved heroes of the heretofore unknown back story of the Oslo Accords is in itself an intriguing back story. 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 that indeed had me walking from a thriller on the page into a thriller on the stage.
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 trhiller 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).
The couple must appease a large cast of forceful and stubbornly opinionated characters and arrange affable getting-to-know you eat and
drink meetings as well as explosive negotiation sessions at various locations. Besides Mona’s boss and his wife there’s Arafat’s intensely passionate yet ultimately reasonable second in command Ahmed Qurie (played to perfection by Anthony Azizi) and the somewhat scarier Hassan Affour (another on the mark interpretation by Dariush Kashani).
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 more Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, Uri Savir (an obnoxious but charismatic Michael Aronov) who shoves them to the sidelines; and Joel Singer, a high profile lawyer based in Washington DC who 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 awkward first meeting between Azizi’s Ahmed Qurie and Oreske’s Hirschfeld is deliciously awkward. The negotioations frequently turn into screaming matches
Director Sher’s clever and sly use of double casting adds to making all that takes place so entertaining. One of the most amusing examples of this is having T. Ryder Smth and Henny Russell play 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 impersonation of Henry Kissinger and Yitzhak Rabin.
The production’s pleasures also owe much to , Michael Yeargans minimalist but frequently locatíon changing set, Catherine Zuber’s costumes and the projections by 59 Productions that expand our view of this fascinating story. Since the play has a firm closing date of August 28th and Jefferson Mays is slated for a revival of The Front Page, both an extension or transfer are not on the horizon. So try to nail down a ticket soon, and when you go be sure to pick up a copy of the current Lincoln Center Theater Review which includes a long interview with Mona Juul and much other interesting background information. 7.13.16

TheatreScene.net, Cynthia Allen – J.T. Rogers effectively walks a tightrope between what was fact and what was fiction in his inspired and tightly drawn drama, Oslo. With wit, finely honed dialogue, the appropriate dollop of levity, and sufficient timeline accuracy, he portrays crucial events leading up to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Rogers’ opening lines and stage directions immediately set up his double entendre intentions: “Laughter …. ‘It’s all true. I’m not making this up.’” In the “Playwright’s Note,” he states that “Oslo is the story of a hidden history that lies behind a public history… But to be clear, it is my version of this history.”

Despite Rogers’ hidden account, there is an overt history, where one of the most iconic images ever photographed is lurking throughout the play. The freeze-frame moment — President Bill Clinton presides over Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking hands in the White House Rose Garden on September 13th, 1993, after the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords — still resonates over two decades later. Two formerly sworn enemies, who embody the disputes between their countrymen, seal a first-time-in-history peace deal. The balance of power rests on the expectation of a handshake. Rogers’ taut backstory highlights the machinations of and “constructive ambiguities” involved in the high-level political efforts and negotiations needed to create peace in the Middle East in 1993.

In 1993, Mona Juul was an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Her husband, Terje Rød-Larsen, was founding director of the Norwegian Fafo Research Foundation which focused primarily on international peace research and Middle Eastern politics. Rogers’ play is based on extensive interviews with Juul and Rød-Larsen who brokered the back channel negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) at Borregaard Castle near Oslo, Norway.

Fortuitously, it was the director, Bartlett Sher, who brought together the meeting of minds with Juul, Rød-Larsen and Rogers. Since the Oslo Accords, Juul and Larsen had been on their own personal reconnaissance — trying to find the appropriate literary outlet and writer to tell their story. Sher’s introductions resulted in Rogers poignantly bringing to life their passion and commitment in orchestrating disparate factions coming together for peace. Rogers and Sher’s long-time relationship with Lincoln Center was readymade for Oslo coming to life.

Terje opens the play, but it is Mona who is the narrator. Mona addresses the audience from time to time clarifying the complicated goings-on — who’s who, current events impinging on the negotiations and pivotal plot points. Mona is portrayed as a key player in the ever-changing musical chairs politics that unfolds. But, as in a carefully balanced husband-wife relationship, each partner has his or her own important role to play.

Sher’s ensemble casting of both major and minor roles is spot on. Jennifer Ehle gives a flawless performance as Mona Juul, a soup-to-nuts diplomat who takes charge and competently handles whatever needs to be done without bravado. Ehle completely understands the special type of graciousness and the acumen necessary that Mona needs to project to put people immediately at ease — crucial to having a room of contentious politicians work with each other. Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry (Ahmed Qurie) sums up Mona’s importance by raising his glass and saying: “To Mona. Without her, we are nothing.”

Jefferson Mays as Terje Rød-Larsen is a refined dresser (costume designer Catherine Zuber is fastidious about the tailoring of his suits and shoes) with impeccable manners. He doesn’t skylark his contributions, but expertly conveys the right amount of boldness combined with narcissism in wanting to influence world events.

In fact, it is Sher’s eye for detail, in that there are no minor roles, that makes Oslo so mesmerizing — T. Ryder Smith (as Johan Jorgen Holst and Finn Grandal), Daniel Jenkins (as Jan Egeland and Ron Pundak), Henny Russell (as Marianne Heiberg, a Swedish hostess and Toril Grandal), Christopher McHale (as Thor Bjornevog and an American diplomat), Jeb Kreager (as Trond Gundersen and a German husband), Daniel Oreskes (as Shimon Peres and Yair Hirschfeld), Dariush Kashani (as Hassan Asfour), Adam Dannheisser (as Yossi Beilin), Joseph Siravo (as Joel Singer), Angela Pierce (as a German Wife), among others.

Another prominent player in the Oslo chess game is Shimon Peres. Oreskes as Peres exemplifies with aplomb his knowledge of the art and science of politics. Peres’ wing man is Yossi Beilin (Dannheisser). Dannheisser portrays Beilin as a bear of a man — aggressive and unpredictable at times, but whose growl is worse than his bite, but canny in his own way.

One of the most effective choices Rogers makes is foreshadowing the iconic handshake with another — an equally important one — during the first meeting of Uri Savir (an excellent Michael Aronov) and Ahmed Qurie (a marvelous Anthony Azizi). Savir (Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry) attends the meeting “at the personal request and as the voice of Shimon Peres.” Qurie (Finance Minister for the PLO) is there “at the personal request and as the voice of Yasser Arafat.” Arafat’s representative extends his hand first, which Peres’ takes. Mona underlines the humanity of the moment and looks at the audience: “Two men, in a room, extend their hands and history begins to change.”

Sher complements Rogers by punctuating the play with visual puns that substantially add to the drama and importance of the enfolding events. A dinner party at Mona and Larsen’s home is disturbed by two phone calls, ringing at the same time. Larsen fields a call from Israel and Mona takes a call from the P.L.O. Phone cords or wires are crossed, as Larsen and Mona exchange mouthpieces and try to arrange meetings and facilitate a place and time for the negotiations in Norway.

The blood red cushions immediately jump out from Michael Yeargan’s sophisticated, but sparse set. The main characters sit on these crimson-colored chairs surrounded by a few pieces of antique furniture. The famed reception room, drawing room and door are painted symbolically in neutral blue-gray. Other needed environments (bar, airport waiting area, etc.) take advantage of the flexible set. Lighting designer Donald Holder constantly shifts emphasis subtly highlighting this event or that. The “door” is lit or not lit, depending on the character(s) situated in front of it or the meaning behind the situation. Characters take to the background when 59 Productions’ projections show both turning point battle scenes and important events in history. Sound designer Peter John Still helps decide what words or shouts from the crowds are distinguished in the video projections, as well as making a phone ring important.

However, the actual, classic handshake in end is anti-climactic. It is a video image on a large screen in the background, a bit out-of-focus. There is no freeze-frame or clear photograph of the Clinton, Arafat and Rabin. Perhaps this was one of the Sher’s double entendres. Did the iconic handshake really portend peace? Or, was it meant to be unclear.

Thomas Friedman encapsulated the handshake in his September 13, 1993 New York Times article: “Two hands that had written the battle orders for so many young men, two fists that had been raised in anger at one another so many times in the past, locked together for a fleeting moment of reconciliation. But much difficult work, many more compromises, will now have to be performed by these same two men to make it a lasting moment.”

At the end of Oslo, a light shines on a door half-opened, or is it half-closed? 7.26.16

TheatreMania, Zachary Stewart- Scotch and waffles played a huge role in the only successful peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. At least, that is, according to J.T. Rogers in his excellent new play, Oslo. Now making its world premiere at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, the play charts the unlikely development of the Oslo Accords, the landmark agreement that established the Palestinian Authority and paved the way for a two-state solution with Israel, an outcome that has unfortunately not yet come to fruition. Who would have thought that bilateral diplomacy could be this thrilling?

Rogers filters this massively complicated tale through the perspective of the Norwegian diplomats who helped make it possible: Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) and Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), his wife (Rogers met his subjects through director Bartlett Sher, who helms this production). Using their contacts, Larsen and Juul open a back channel of communication between the Israelis and the Tunis-based PLO in 1992. Since it is illegal for any Israeli government officials to communicate with the PLO (then deemed a terrorist organization), the Palestinian group’s Finance Minister, Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), first meets with economics professor Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes), who just happens to regularly break bread with Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin (Adam Dannheisser).

As their talks begin to bear fruit, the Israelis upgrade their delegation to include higher-ranking negotiators like Uri Savir (Michael Aronov, convincingly embodying a boisterous Israeli macho man) and lawyer Joel Singer (an appropriately smug Joseph Siravo). Legal advice is conspicuously absent from the Palestinian side, although they do have ample old communist rhetoric from PLO liaison Hassan Asfour (the hilariously menacing Dariush Kashani). The men (and with the exception of Juul, who is just there as a facilitator, all the participants are men) wrangle over land and legitimacy by day, retiring to stuff their faces and tell stories at night. Their interactions oscillate wildly between hearty laughter and red-faced shouting matches, everything pitched up to eleven. Will this casually nontransparent Mediterranean approach to diplomacy succeed where the official Washington-sponsored talks have failed? Yes, apparently.

The pace and scale of the play — three hours of constantly shifting furniture and talking points — gives one a physical sense of just how exhausting and tenuous these negotiations really were. Using a sparsely decorated yet tastefully ovular room as his canvas, set designer Michael Yeargan employs a dizzying array of furniture to effectively create castles in Norway and cafes in Tel Aviv. Everything is on castors so that Sher and his cast can execute speedy transitions. Strife from the outside world seeps in through 59 Productions’ well-curated projections, which flicker on the upstage wall like fading memories.

While Sher’s production and Rogers’ language draw us into the world of international diplomacy, it is the performances that hold us rapt. Mays is particularly transfixing as the seemingly mild-mannered (but potentially self-serving) Larsen. Masking his intentions with a pleasant smile and the poshest of international English accents, we can never quite tell what is more important to him: bringing peace to the Holy Land or validating his gradualist model of diplomacy. With a deadly gaze capable of penetrating concrete, Ehle’s Juul simultaneously calls him on the carpet and enables his machinations. But the ends justified the means, right? By the play’s conclusion, it is very clear that not even Larsen is fully convinced of that.

Oslo is extraordinary in its ability to chart the temperature of the negotiations, but its laser-like focus misses how external political factors influenced the jockeying inside the room where it happened: how the Israeli delegation took advantage of the divisions and personal ambitions within the fractious Palestinian coalition even as they sought to mitigate the inevitable challenge from their own right wing, headed by the man who still leads Israel today, Benjamin Netanyahu. Some of that context might have helped shed light on the darker side of the Oslo Accords and how they have contributed to the present impasse.

Still, Rogers has crafted an invaluable and incredibly watchable drama about a hugely important event that far too many Americans, invested in the orthodoxy of our chosen side in this conflict, fail to fully understand. Most important: The Oslo Accords were always meant to be temporary, a five-year plan toward a more permanent settlement. Yet in the absence of that agreement (and as Mahmoud Abbas serves year 12 of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority), that temporary fix appears to be the new normal. Oslo helps us to understand just how we got here. 7.11.16

Broadway World, Michael Dale – Two Jews walk into a room.

A pair of Palestinians follow them.

The Norwegian couple who brought them together are as excited as high school lab partners who got the volcano to bubble over at the right time.

And if that seems like an inappropriate way to describe the events depicted in J.T. Rogers‘ fascinating, entertaining and realistically funny drama, Oslo, that’s kind of the point.

When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hand at the White House before President Bill Clinton in 1993, signifying the road to peace that had been agreed upon with the Oslo Accords, the world regarded it as an important historic moment.

But Oslo serves as a reminder that before important people can get together for the photo ops that signify important historic moments, less-important people have to go through the messier business of getting them there.

Helping to make the play so entertaining and clever, without undercutting the seriousness of the subject, is that the premise of the fact-based drama begins as a somewhat naïve attempt at a social experiment.

At the center of it all is a wonderful performance by Jefferson Mays, who plays social scientist Terje Rød-Larsen with sweet sincerity and excitable charm. His wife Mona Juul, an official in foreign ministry (Jennifer Ehle, terrific as the play’s more refined anchor), has helped him arrange for participants to try out his theory that peace in the Middle East can be more quickly obtained by removing the high-profile posturing of public negotiations and allowing the participants social time to relate to each other as people.

With it being illegal for an Israeli Government official to meet with a member of the PLO, a genial pair of academics (Daniel Oreskes and Daniel Jenkins) are acquired meet with a PLO finance minister (forceful Anthony Azizi) and his Marxist colleague (sternly comical Dariush Kashani).

They’re hosted at a comfortable estate with a conference room where they may be left alone to privately hash through the issues separating their people. Between sessions, Terje encourages personal conversations over cocktails and meals.

When it looks like progress is actually being made, the Israeli’s send in a serious representative, a director general of the foreign ministry (tough and volatile Michael Aronov) who is a master of manipulation.

Without getting overly sentimental, Rogers effectively brings out the admiration and affection these men have for each other as they defend the demands of their leaders.

With numerous locales and characters, director Bartlett Sher‘s swift and tense production of the three hour long play never sags as actors roll pieces of designer Michael Yeargan‘s set on and off.

The play is abundantly talky, but it’s the kind of crisp, clever talk that continually stimulates.

History tell us that the accomplishments of the Oslo Accords dissolved quickly, but in a hopeful epilogue we’re reminded to keep remembering how far we’ve come and how much more we can do. 7.11.16

Vulture, Jesse Green – Oslo Finds Drama in the Back Channels of Diplomacy. It’s not often I think a three-hour play could profitably be longer, but J. T. Rogers’s gripping, big-boned Oslo, which opened tonight at Lincoln Center Theater, needs all the meat and muscle it can pack on its frame. It is, generically, a “secret history” drama, which means there’s a lot of context to provide: in this case, the long trail of sad events and unheralded personalities that made the 1993 Oslo “accord” between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization such a surprise. The agreement, really a framework for future peace rather than an actual treaty, was negotiated through a back channel almost entirely unknown to the diplomats engaged in the hopeless official process in Washington, London, and elsewhere. Organized by Terje Rød Larsen, a rogue Norwegian sociologist, and his wife, Mona Juul, an official in the Norwegian foreign ministry, it involved nine months of covert meetings in a remote manor house about 60 miles south of the title city. The scheme was based on the audacious proposition that if these enemies, some of them legally forbidden to meet the others, could break bread in dinner-party-sized gatherings rather than huge delegations, if they could get to know one another as people rather than as vessels for hardened positions, they might find a way forward.

The play has a kind of back channel of its own; some years ago, the young daughters of the director, Bartlett Sher, happened to attend school in New York with the daughters of Larsen and Juul, who was by then a Norwegian ambassador to the U.N. Sher had directed Rogers’s previous secret-history play, Blood and Gifts, about the covert struggle among world powers over Afghanistan in the 1980s; when he heard Juul and Larsen’s story, he connected the couple to the playwright. Perhaps for that reason, Oslo, especially at first, foregrounds them. It is the story of their enthusiasm for the Middle East, their audacity in seeking a way toward peace there, their fumbles, their gambits, their conflict over the meaning of diplomacy. (Juul forces Larsen to promise they will do no more than “facilitate”; he breaks his promise.) Of course, this is also a useful playwriting shortcut, giving us a way to enter the material with the help of our semi-comical Norwegian guides; at times they seem like the most popular docents at an interactive history museum. But as the focus shifts to the Israeli and P.L.O. players, Juul and Larsen are too frequently reduced to interstitial narrators, baldly telling the audience who’s who or how much time has passed. It is in these moments (and in the sudden, brief appearance of highly pungent but irrelevant characters in the third act) that I detected the hallmarks of overhasty surgery on the play; what were once longer scenes, perhaps, are now in effect vestigial tails or title cards. I gave up counting the variations on lines like “Two days and nights they worked, almost without stopping.”

Sher’s staging, remarkably swift and entertaining, keeps Juul and Larsen hovering around the edge of the action even when they are not in it: a nice metaphor for their behind-the-scenes real-life function. But once the Israelis and Palestinians arrive, it’s hard to see how the pale couple could do much more. For one thing, the drama among the Middle Easterners is quite a bit less notional than that of the Norwegians; they are fighting for security, for land, for dignity, and (unhelpfully) for the past. Then, too, they are not just characters but characters. Representing the P.L.O. are Ahmed Qurei, the finance minister in exile, suave and tense and unctuous with women, and Hassan Asfour, dour and quiet except when he explodes in vicious rages. Representing Israel, at first, are two “semi-well-dressed” zhlubs, Yair Hirschfeld and Ron Pundak, both economics professors from Haifa. Eventually, they are joined by Uri Savir, the director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, an obnoxiously magnetic Sabra who is half lizard, half steel. Others, including even Shimon Peres, the foreign minister, also appear, though his counterpart, Yasser Arafat, is only present in imitations performed by others.

Played by exacting actors like Anthony Azizi as Qurei and Michael Aronov as Savir, this gallery of types makes for exciting scene work. There is, after all, a lot to chew on: People who at first can barely say hello without defaulting to boilerplate hostilities are soon sharing family histories while consuming case after case of Johnnie Walker. (“You are my first Jew,” says Asfour, shaking hands with Hirschfeld after round one. “I hope I was not too stringy,” Hirschfeld replies.) Whether these characters are truly drawn is another matter. Rogers says in a program note that some have been excised and some given different roles in the action. The dialogue, in any case, is necessarily his own. Since the events, at least, really happened, we are persuaded to let that pass, though the actual people, many of whom are still alive, may feel differently; what is more problematic for us is that the emphasis on character, which echoes Larsen’s theory of diplomacy, makes the actual negotiations seem oddly perfunctory. In outline they are, of course, momentous: We know that the Rose Garden ceremony presided over by President (Bill) Clinton in September 1993 is at stake with each turn of the screw. But the details — border crossings, taxes, even settlers and Jerusalem — aren’t themselves dramatizable in this context. They are talking points. Rogers knows he can’t build a play from them.

Instead, he keeps returning the action — or, rather, he and Sher do — to the Norwegians, who are enigmatic if a bit underwritten. They are frequently fighting their superiors for permission to keep the back channel open, and frequently using the same words to do so. Luckily they are embodied by Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle, who manage to make something solid out of dialogue that is sometimes a hilarious kaleidoscope of evasive diplomatic phrases. (After Asfour goes off on another tirade, Mays gets both a laugh and a pang out of the audience as he says, “And, again, so appreciated.”) Of necessity, Ehle is even subtler, and it’s a sign of her exquisite taste that the highlights of her performance include several lines she whispers to others onstage. We see their behavior change, but what has she said? As with the real history of the Oslo negotiations, we will never know.

What we do know is what has happened in the years since, much of it betraying the joyful climax of the play’s events. That not-so-secret history is what makes Rogers’s play feel excruciatingly necessary and timely more than two decades later. The kind of diplomacy Larsen engineered, based on shared tastes for waffles and a willingness to get drunk together, reflects an idea of humanity that, while acknowledging grave differences — whom do you make peace with if not your enemies? — assumes greater similarities. Politics is merely an outer expression of personal character. (“I can’t give up the idea that suddenly everything will change and my stomach will be my friend,” says one diplomat, during a bout of indigestion. “So you see I am dreaming of two peace plans simultaneously.”) But the intractable rages we see blistering Israel and Palestine today, and even much closer to home, suggest that Larsen’s humanistic approach fares no better in the long run than Kissingerian realpolitik. Whether a play like Oslo is a comedy or a tragedy may depend only on where in the story the author chooses to bring the curtain down. 7.11.16

Talkin’ Broadway, Matthew Murray – The art of writing may be inherently undramatic, but that doesn’t mean it contains no possibility of vitality. One need only look, for example, at the musical 1776 (which was revived at Encores! earlier this year) for proof of how the creation of a document—by politicians, no less!—can be made riveting, rewarding entertainment. As a secondary, and rather more current, example, one may also point to J.T. Rogers’s new play Oslo, which just opened at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. This play, which has been directed by Bartlett Sher, is really about something far more concrete and concretizing: peace in the Middle East by way of the 1993 Oslo Accords. But it’s one of the chief contentions of Rogers and his many characters here that words have distinct, inviolable meanings, and that to discount the power they contain could lead to your figurative or literal destruction. So across three acts and three hours of playing time, Rogers, Sher, and a dynamite cast led by Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle draw necessary connections between reality as written and reality as executed in pursuit of a lofty goal—with considerable, if less than total, success.

It’s the philosophy of Terje Rød-Larsen (Mays), the director of Norway’s Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences, that previous attempts to unite the ever-warring Israelis and Palestinians have failed because they’re striven for totalism rather than gradualism. So with the help of his wife, Mona (Ehle), who works in the foreign ministry, he arranges a meeting between two officials positioned well below thenPrime Minister of Israel Yitzakh Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) head Yasser Arafat, University of Haifa economics professor Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes) and PLO Finance Minister Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), to get the ball rolling.

We see how those relationships continuously establish new ones further up their respective lines, coming to involve the likes of the flamboyant director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Uri Savir (a scorchingly funny Michael Aronov) and the foreign minister himself, Shimon Peres (Oreskes), as well as a hard-line Communist PLO liaison named Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), until every ceiling of influence is hit. And it seems, not without good reason, that compromises about sticking points such as the legitimacy of Israel and the function of Jerusalem, may just be within reach, where before they were all but unimaginable.

As with his previous LCT play weaving complex current events into a theatrical narrative, Blood and Gifts (an electrifying and hilarious deconstruction of United StatesAfghanistan relations in the 1980s and 1990s, produced in 2011), Rogers mines every occurrence, no matter how how minor, for new forms of tension and release, while never shying away from the underlying accomplishments. As much attention is given to, say, a barrage of 200 questions intended to hammer out critical disagreements as to the bonding power of waffles with lingonberry preserves or mocking impersonations of ostensibly revered figures (Terje, at Mona’s urgent behest, insists on pure business behind closed doors but none at all in the common areas).

Sher (who also directed Blood and Gifts) has provided a staging that is perhaps drier than ideal, imparting a stiff atmosphere that his design team (Michael Yeargan for sets, Catherine Zuber for costumes, Donald Holder for lights, Peter John Still for sound, and 59 Productions for projections) are not completely able to puncture. But he does always focus you on the matters at hand, and keeps things thoroughly followable and digestible—no small achievement considering 14 performers play 21 characters, with constant, understated shifts in time and location.

Much credit must go to the actors, who robustly occupy the front lines. Mays is a complicated delight, linking the conflicting sides of Terje’s personality (starchy academic and international unifying force; natural meddler and background figure) into a single personality more than engaging enough to guide us through the process. As Mona, Ehle beautifully blends a businesslike dreamer’s intensity with real-life perspective, and makes the woman a charming but bracing corrective to Terje’s barely subdued passions. The fiery Aronov and parched Azizi make their characters both perfectly contrasting sparring partners and more alike than either would be willing to admit. And in the larger of the supporting roles, Oreskes (always darkly driven), (Kashani (particularly explosive), T. Ryder Smith (as a manic, swearing-prone Norwegian minister), and Daniel Jenkins (a pair of milquetoast underlings) make indelible impressions of their own.

Oslo, alas, is ultimately unsatisfying for reasons unrelated to any of this. For his obvious skill at translating geopolitical positioning into compelling stage action, Rogers has not overcome the material’s inherent catastrophic problem: The Oslo Accords did not lead to peace between Israel and Palestine, or really anything like it. If this is not surprising to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the headlines, as presented the life-or-death attempts of Terje and his negotiators promise a more tangible, complete outcome than the one this playwright—or the planet Earth—has yet been able to deliver.

That shouldn’t be a show-killer in any play where the journey is more important than the destination, but Rogers has simply not moderated expectations and modulated their follow-through to keep pace with the facts that, eventually, become inevitable. You need some solidity, whether in the conclusion or in the lack of one, but the most you get here is a flimsy, tacked-on epilogue that details the various deaths and derailments of the characters, as though any of that is (or has been) the point.

Worse, the melancholy wrapper around it, which tries to explain away the Accords’ failure, defuses almost everything that comes before and it’s the playwriting equivalent of throwing up one’s hands, at the time the audience needs that least. Even if Rogers—and, for that matter, the planet—can’t answer one of history’s most vexing questions, not providing some return on the audience’s investment only compounds the problem by encouraging us to continue to navel-gaze after observing so exhaustively how tiny motions can turn great motors.

Maybe the Accords did crack open the door to an enduring relationship that will mend the ancient wounds in the Middle East, but that’s not the story Oslo claims to be telling until it’s clear it can tell no other. Terje, and maybe even Rabin and Arafat, had to settle from their positions on the world stage, but that doesn’t mean we ought to have to when we’re looking down at a playing space of a very different, but potentially as transformative, kind. 7.11.16

New York Theatre, Jonathan Mandel – “Oslo,” a fascinating play about the surprising story behind the first peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians, arrives at Lincoln Center at a time when we can use something hopeful amid the horror and chaos of the last few weeks.

According to the play, a little-known Norwegian couple instigated and pushed along the secret negotiations between the two warring sides that led to the famous moment when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands at the White House in 1993.

The versatile Jefferson Mays (“I Am My Own Wife,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”) portrays sociologist Terje Rod-Larsen; Jennifer Ehl (The Coast of Utopia) is his wife Mona Juul, an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, who serves as narrator. As Mona explains, the couple was working in the Middle East when they came upon a confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in a back alley in Gaza:

“Two boys facing each other, one in uniform, one in jeans, weapons in hand, hate flowing between them. But their faces—and we both see this—their faces are exactly the same. The same fear. The same desperate desire to be anywhere but here. To not be doing this, to this other boy. And there, in that moment, for us, it began.”

They used their connections and their convictions to forge a secret “back channel,” at the same time that official negotiations in Washington D.C. were going on with no progress. The Norwegian couple relied on their tenacity and Rod-Larsen’s model for negotiating between implacable enemies, which called for focusing on one issue at a time, rather than all issues at once, with the aim of building up personal bonds of trust. Within nine months, the back channel became the official channel, and the two sides signed the Oslo Accords.

“Oslo” is written by J.T. Rogers and directed by Bartlett Sher (better known for helming luscious revivals of “South Pacific” and “The King and I.”) They are the same team that put together “Blood and Gifts,” about America’s covert involvement in the Soviet Union’s war with Afghanistan. Like that 2011 drama, “Oslo” has a long running time full of a large cast portraying multiple characters engaged in lots of…talking. Unlike “Blood and Gifts,” the three-hour running time of “Oslo” went by relatively swiftly for me. The creative team invests the principal characters with personalities; we see them get passionate, yell, apologize, share stories about their families, even tell jokes and mock their superiors…slowly, in other words, build those personal bonds, turning from nervous and outraged in each other’s company, to standoffish, to something approaching friendship. It helps that the adversaries are played so credibly – especially by stand-out Anthony Azizi as Ahmed Qurie, the finance minister for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Daniel Oreskes both as a schlemiel of a professor of economics and as stately foreign minister Shimon Peres.

In a program note, the playwright points out that, although “the events in the play all happened,” the words the characters say “are mine,” and the chronology and other details have been altered. This makes one wonder whether the play could have done without some of those details. The issue of Lincoln Center magazine about the play offers a debate as to the significance of the long-ago negotiations, and whether they should be admired as a model or regretted as a mistake – something that the end of the play toys with as well. This makes one wonder whether we leave the theater with a false sense of hope. Still, “Oslo” gives us not only a lucid refresher course on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and provides us entertainment that is both surprisingly funny and suspenseful. It also leaves us with a sense that maybe even the world’s most unsettling situations can someday be settled. 7.16.16

Entertainment Weekly, Melissa Rose BernardoThe best historical plays are the ones that send you into a Google spiral immediately following the curtain call. Think of Michael Frayn’s 2000 Tony winner Copenhagen, based on a meeting between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg; Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, the 2004 Pulitzer-winning one-man show centering on German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf; Peter Morgan’s 2006 drama (and later movie) Frost/Nixon, focusing on a series of interviews between British TV presenter David Frost and the disgraced former American president. It’s not that the plays were lacking in any way; it’s that they left you with a burning desire to know more about a subject you never knew could be so captivating.

You’ll find your curiosity similarly piqued after J.T. Rogers’ intense, intellectual Oslo, now playing at Lincoln Center Theater’s Off Broadway Mitzi Newhouse stage. This deep dive into the Oslo Peace Accords — the groundbreaking 1993 deal between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (marked famously by a handshake between prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and chairman Yasser Arafat in the White House rose garden) — focuses on the Norwegians’ role in the events: largely, how social scientist Terje Rød-Larsen (the inimitable Jefferson Mays, fresh off A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) and his foreign ministry official wife, Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), secretly (and improbably) brought both sides together.

Rogers has a bit of a gift for transforming contentious, complex historical subjects into digestible, but not dumbed-down, entertainment. In 2011’s Blood and Gifts, on this same stage and also in tandem with director Bartlett Sher (Fiddler on the Roof, The King and I), he tackled war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And though Oslo clocks in at about three hours, it’s by no means a slog. There’s even plenty of profane humor packed in: For instance, Israel’s director general of the foreign ministry Uri Savir (Michael Aronov) addressing PLO finance minister Ahmed Qurei (Anthony Azizi) with the icebreaker, “Well, now that we’ve both swung our dicks…” (Rogers does write, in his program note, that “though every character in this play is named for a real person, the words they say are mine.”) Also, don’t worry if your knowledge of Middle East politics is nil. There’s enough backstory, largely delivered by the affable Ehle in an unsteady Norwegian accent, to fill in the necessary blanks.

But perhaps what’s most impressive about Oslo is its evenhandedness — and its optimism. You might wonder with whom Rogers sides, the Israelis or the Palestinians. Frankly, neither. Or both. What’s clear is this: He’s for peace. In a gorgeous show-ending speech that could apply to so much more than the events of the play — after the characters update us on the blood that has been shed since 1993 — Larsen implores us to look back, see “how far we have come,” and imagine where we could go. “The Possibility. Do you see it?” “Do you?” At the matinee I attended, a woman in the back row felt the need to reply: “It’ll never happen.” Well. Not with that attitude, lady. 7.11.16

NBC New York, Robert Kahn – ‘Oslo,’ at Lincoln Center, Tracks Journey to a Futile Handshake.

I approached “Oslo,” the new political thriller at Lincoln Center Theater, with a single image in mind: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shaking hands in the White House Rose Garden, with then-President Bill Clinton behind them, his arms spread wide in embrace.

What a moment. The signing of the Oslo peace accords may well have been the photo op of the 1990s.

And yet … a quarter-century later, much of the world recalls the pivotal episode in the Arab-Israeli peace process not as a high watermark, but as an ineffective diplomatic exercise that left more bloodshed in its aftermath. Time suggests that the accord had no teeth.

Is there still drama, then, to be mined from a story about the agreement’s genesis? That’s what I wondered as the 3-hour drama, directed by Bartlett Sher (“Fiddler,” etc.), built to its sad crescendo. The answer, assuredly, is yes.

Playwright J.T. Rogers grasps the cynicism that crept back over the Middle East in the wake of multinational efforts to tamp down the decades-long conflict, and has crafted a play arguing that the storied agreement set events on a better course, even if it didn’t generate the desired outcome.

“Oslo” is told from the perspective of a young Norwegian couple (Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle), who arranged back-channel meetings between Israeli and Palestinian players at the snowy Borregaard Estate, outside the Norwegian capital, with neither the permission of superiors, nor the inclusion of American interlopers.

Mays (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”) is Terje Rød-Larsen, director of a think tank, who theorizes that a negotiation will only bear fruit in an environment where enemies can relate on a personal level, learning the names of each other’s children and so forth.

He has a fine complement in Ehle (“The Coast of Utopia”) as his wife, Mona Juul, an effective diplomat who quickly plugs press leaks to preserve the sanctity of the undertakings and is the more grounded force in their union. (The two real-life diplomats, not incidentally, aided Rogers with his script.)

With the idea that it’s better to seek forgiveness than permission, our story begins at a dinner party, during which Terje and Mona tell the incoming Norwegian foreign minister of their plan to bring together Israeli and Palestinian leaders … but only after they’ve set it in motion.

From there, we flash back a year to meetings at Borregaard, with escalating tensions and ever more high-level diplomats on site. Also, there are plenty of waffles: Terje and Mona clearly believe the way to the hearts of angry men is through their stomachs.

Back and forth, the Israelis and Palestinians attempt to hammer out a Declaration of Principles, debating issues familiar to anyone cursorily versed in Middle Eastern affairs: Who will have sovereignty over Jerusalem? Will the Israelis leave Gaza? Can the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “legitimate” state?

Taking seats at Booregaard are Ahmed Qurie (the marvelous Anthony Azizi), as the mildly flirtatious finance minister for the PLO. His delegation partner is Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), a brutish fella who goes off on deadpan non sequiturs filled with vaguely Communist-sounding proverbs.

Across the table are Israeli politicians such as Uri Savir (the excellent Michael Aronov, of “Golden Boy”), a one-time New York consulate official whose youthful pig-headedness seems likely to derail the work going on.

At times, “Oslo” is more playful than its subject matter might suggest: tension in one scene is broken when a drunken Uri dons a makeshift peaked keffiyeh (Arafat’s signature headdress) and segues into a goofy impersonation of the late Palestinian leader.

The writing and staging are literal-minded, so the sound of a jet engine tells us the action has moved from Oslo to London or Stockholm. Mona, in her capacity as narrator-in-chief, describes numerous atrocities even as newsreel footage of the horrors screens on the back wall of the Mitzi E. Newhouse.

I never felt as if “Oslo” had a pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian political stance; that fact alone lends the story heft.

Finally, Mays’ Terje makes the point that, results notwithstanding, at least it was possible for Israelis and Palestinians to come to the same table. With “Oslo,” playwright Rogers is clearly exhibiting a wish that the next generation of players would soon pick up where their predecessors left off. 7.11.16

Clyde Fitch Report,  David Finkle – Always motivated to write about global complexities, J. T. Rogers presents the conflicting realities of statesmanship and politics in Oslo, now hiking the temperature in Lincoln Center Theater’s air-conditioned Mitzi E. Newhouse.

Learning there was quite a backstory to the Sept. 13,1993 signing of the Oslo Accords by Israel’s then-Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasir Arafat, founder and chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization — how could there not have been? — Rogers threw himself into speculating what must have happened during the months preceding the historic agreement.

Check that. Instead of “must have happened,” perhaps substitute “might have happened.” As a result of his research, Rogers has identified many, if not all, of the players in the negotiations and, appropriating them as characters, imagines what they could have said during the tense talks — talks that eventually led to comprises and, eventually, an iconic and historic White House handshake presided over by President Bill Clinton — an otherwise minor player in the (temporary) breakthrough.

Using not only imagined dialogue but incorporating what is already well-known about the accords, Rogers’ three-act, three-hour drama certainly has a pungent air of verisimilitude. (There are precedents for this play, such as Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, concerning a 1941 meeting between two legendary physicists — for reasons that remain open to speculation, even today.)

The Oslo Accords are so named because it was initiated in Norway by Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays), director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Sciences, and his wife Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), who worked under Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith), then Norway’s foreign minister. Holst, a diplomat, was unhappy with the unorthodox steps taken, without his knowledge, to set the circumstances for the accords into motion.

Consequently, Rogers — whose previous plays include Blood and Gifts and The Overwhelming — has produced an opus that anyone intrigued by the way politics are greased couldn’t do better than to tune into.

Oslo begins with a highly secret meeting between the PLO’s suspicious finance minister, Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), who had Arafat’s ear but didn’t always consult him when he says he did; another PLO official, the hard-nosed communist Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani); and two professors from the University of Haifa, Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes) and Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins). (Oreskes also doubles as Shimon Peres, who has served as President of Israel and four tours as Prime Minister and who, at the time of Oslo, was Rabin’s Foreign Minister. Along with Rabin and Arafat, Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Accords.)

Everything that transpires in Oslo is dramatic, but talky: don’t let anyone argue that strict attention needn’t be paid to every sentence uttered. As negotiations continue, with predictable obstacles cropping up, progress slowly is achieved and meaning mitigating friendships between dedicated enemies grow. “I have never met an Israeli — face to face,” Qurie remarks at the prospect of greeting Hirschfeld.

With the months of 1993 inching by, a few participants in the process become threateningly stubborn — at least as Rogers writes it. One is Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), the hyper-kinetic, scatological Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who becomes the chief negotiator and demonstrates disdain for his earlier counterparts. Another participant is Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo), a senior partner at a DC law firm who arrives skeptical of everything and everyone preceding him. (Salty language isn’t confined to Savir. It’s rife throughout the play.) Rogers also deftly uses humor, such as when the negotiators tell politically incorrect jokes mocking Israelis and Palestinians alike — laughter as a diplomatic aid. Numerous wisecracks definitely mirror life.

On a simple Michael Yeargan set representing numerous locales (Oslo, Cairo, Tel Aviv, London) and constantly requiring actors to push and pull furniture (calling Actors’ Equity…), Bartlett Sher directs with a traffic-cop’s skill. (Sher’s revival of The King and I just closed upstairs at the Vivian Beaumont.)

The director also elicits fitting performances from his cast. Mays, as the man who creates the conditions within which so much is achieved, does extremely well with the occasional ignominies he must endure. Ehle, doing much of the narrating, is strong as a wife who must keep her determined husband within the proper facilitator’s bounds. In a work where, to some extent, performances are meant to be subservient to a broader purposes, the ensemble is flawless — with Aronov, Azizi, Kashani, Oreskes, Siravo, Smith and Adam Dannheisser (as the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister) pulling more than their share of the weight.

Rogers’ chief achievement is a beautifully balanced play. Commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater, where concern for subscribers (many of them Jewish) is likely considered from time to time, Oslo doesn’t favor a political side. Certainly it doesn’t build up the place of the US in the events of the play, although a well-informed American diplomat, played by Christopher McHale, does arrive to announce that he knows all about what’s going on.

But if political correctness has been kept at bay, another element has unmistakably eased in, and it leaves one to wonder if it’s there to send audience members — at Lincoln Center Theater, surely more Jews than Palestinians — out of the hushed auditorium. Consider this your spoiler alert.

Rogers has the Accords signed, and then the cast members face the audience for an epilogue detailing where the characters are today. At that point, Mays, as Rod-Larsen, enters the audience to ask whether, given today’s grizzly Middle East, the possibility for improvement exists. He queries:

Do you see it? Do you?

At the press-night audience I attended, no one responded. Rod-Larsen said “Good.” What might that mean? Since it can’t really be termed politically correct, perhaps the playwright has invented a new category: wishfully correct. 7.12.16

TheatreScene.net, Cynthia Allen – J.T. Rogers effectively walks a tightrope between what was fact and what was fiction in his inspired and tightly drawn drama, Oslo. With wit, finely honed dialogue, the appropriate dollop of levity, and sufficient timeline accuracy, he portrays crucial events leading up to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Rogers’ opening lines and stage directions immediately set up his double entendre intentions: “Laughter …. ‘It’s all true. I’m not making this up.’” In the “Playwright’s Note,” he states that “Oslo is the story of a hidden history that lies behind a public history… But to be clear, it is my version of this history.”

Despite Rogers’ hidden account, there is an overt history, where one of the most iconic images ever photographed is lurking throughout the play. The freeze-frame moment — President Bill Clinton presides over Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking hands in the White House Rose Garden on September 13th, 1993, after the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords — still resonates over two decades later. Two formerly sworn enemies, who embody the disputes between their countrymen, seal a first-time-in-history peace deal. The balance of power rests on the expectation of a handshake. Rogers’ taut backstory highlights the machinations of and “constructive ambiguities” involved in the high-level political efforts and negotiations needed to create peace in the Middle East in 1993.

In 1993, Mona Juul was an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Her husband, Terje Rød-Larsen, was founding director of the Norwegian Fafo Research Foundation which focused primarily on international peace research and Middle Eastern politics. Rogers’ play is based on extensive interviews with Juul and Rød-Larsen who brokered the back channel negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) at Borregaard Castle near Oslo, Norway.

Fortuitously, it was the director, Bartlett Sher, who brought together the meeting of minds with Juul, Rød-Larsen and Rogers. Since the Oslo Accords, Juul and Larsen had been on their own personal reconnaissance — trying to find the appropriate literary outlet and writer to tell their story. Sher’s introductions resulted in Rogers poignantly bringing to life their passion and commitment in orchestrating disparate factions coming together for peace. Rogers and Sher’s long-time relationship with Lincoln Center was readymade for Oslo coming to life.

Terje opens the play, but it is Mona who is the narrator. Mona addresses the audience from time to time clarifying the complicated goings-on — who’s who, current events impinging on the negotiations and pivotal plot points. Mona is portrayed as a key player in the ever-changing musical chairs politics that unfolds. But, as in a carefully balanced husband-wife relationship, each partner has his or her own important role to play.

Sher’s ensemble casting of both major and minor roles is spot on. Jennifer Ehle gives a flawless performance as Mona Juul, a soup-to-nuts diplomat who takes charge and competently handles whatever needs to be done without bravado. Ehle completely understands the special type of graciousness and the acumen necessary that Mona needs to project to put people immediately at ease — crucial to having a room of contentious politicians work with each other. Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry (Ahmed Qurie) sums up Mona’s importance by raising his glass and saying: “To Mona. Without her, we are nothing.”

Jefferson Mays as Terje Rød-Larsen is a refined dresser (costume designer Catherine Zuber is fastidious about the tailoring of his suits and shoes) with impeccable manners. He doesn’t skylark his contributions, but expertly conveys the right amount of boldness combined with narcissism in wanting to influence world events.

In fact, it is Sher’s eye for detail, in that there are no minor roles, that makes Oslo so mesmerizing — T. Ryder Smith (as Johan Jorgen Holst and Finn Grandal), Daniel Jenkins (as Jan Egeland and Ron Pundak), Henny Russell (as Marianne Heiberg, a Swedish hostess and Toril Grandal), Christopher McHale (as Thor Bjornevog and an American diplomat), Jeb Kreager (as Trond Gundersen and a German husband), Daniel Oreskes (as Shimon Peres and Yair Hirschfeld), Dariush Kashani (as Hassan Asfour), Adam Dannheisser (as Yossi Beilin), Joseph Siravo (as Joel Singer), Angela Pierce (as a German Wife), among others.

Another prominent player in the Oslo chess game is Shimon Peres. Oreskes as Peres exemplifies with aplomb his knowledge of the art and science of politics. Peres’ wing man is Yossi Beilin (Dannheisser). Dannheisser portrays Beilin as a bear of a man — aggressive and unpredictable at times, but whose growl is worse than his bite, but canny in his own way.

One of the most effective choices Rogers makes is foreshadowing the iconic handshake with another — an equally important one — during the first meeting of Uri Savir (an excellent Michael Aronov) and Ahmed Qurie (a marvelous Anthony Azizi). Savir (Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry) attends the meeting “at the personal request and as the voice of Shimon Peres.” Qurie (Finance Minister for the PLO) is there “at the personal request and as the voice of Yasser Arafat.” Arafat’s representative extends his hand first, which Peres’ takes. Mona underlines the humanity of the moment and looks at the audience: “Two men, in a room, extend their hands and history begins to change.”

Sher complements Rogers by punctuating the play with visual puns that substantially add to the drama and importance of the enfolding events. A dinner party at Mona and Larsen’s home is disturbed by two phone calls, ringing at the same time. Larsen fields a call from Israel and Mona takes a call from the P.L.O. Phone cords or wires are crossed, as Larsen and Mona exchange mouthpieces and try to arrange meetings and facilitate a place and time for the negotiations in Norway.

The blood red cushions immediately jump out from Michael Yeargan’s sophisticated, but sparse set. The main characters sit on these crimson-colored chairs surrounded by a few pieces of antique furniture. The famed reception room, drawing room and door are painted symbolically in neutral blue-gray. Other needed environments (bar, airport waiting area, etc.) take advantage of the flexible set. Lighting designer Donald Holder constantly shifts emphasis subtly highlighting this event or that. The “door” is lit or not lit, depending on the character(s) situated in front of it or the meaning behind the situation. Characters take to the background when 59 Productions’ projections show both turning point battle scenes and important events in history. Sound designer Peter John Still helps decide what words or shouts from the crowds are distinguished in the video projections, as well as making a phone ring important.

However, the actual, classic handshake in end is anti-climactic. It is a video image on a large screen in the background, a bit out-of-focus. There is no freeze-frame or clear photograph of the Clinton, Arafat and Rabin. Perhaps this was one of the Sher’s double entendres. Did the iconic handshake really portend peace? Or, was it meant to be unclear.

Thomas Friedman encapsulated the handshake in his September 13, 1993 New York Times article: “Two hands that had written the battle orders for so many young men, two fists that had been raised in anger at one another so many times in the past, locked together for a fleeting moment of reconciliation. But much difficult work, many more compromises, will now have to be performed by these same two men to make it a lasting moment.”

At the end of Oslo, a light shines on a door half-opened, or is it half-closed? 7.26.16

New York Theatre Guide, Tullis McCall – OSLO, now at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, is the kind of brilliant production that will leave you a teensie bit worse off than it found you. It will leave you a bit rattled. It will leave you with new skin and and refined eyesight. You will look at political events (as if you had a chance NOT to) with a more critical eye. When one hand is waving to you, you will wonder what the other hand is doing. While the U.S. Political conventions are being spoon fed to us, you will hear yourself saying, “What are they NOT telling us?” All because you will have spent three very extraordinary hours listening to a team of excellent actors spin the tale of the funny thing that happened on the way to the Oslo Accord. How many people were willing to fall on their swords in order that Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat would shake hands in the White House Rose Garden.

Quite a few, as it turns out. Starting with Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays), Director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences, and his wife Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), an Official in the Foreign Ministry. Of Norway. Not from anywhere CLOSE to the Middle East. The year was 1993, and these two, on a research trip to Israel, got it into their heads that if a couple of well-chosen Israelis and Palestinians were brought to a neutral location and placed in a room with a table, chairs cigarettes and coffee, they would emerge with a peace agreement. Of course it would take a little time…

For Larsen and Juul this all started in 1992 while Juul was on assignment in Cairo. Larsen had gone with her. They visited Israel and were smitten by the people and the land itself. The Gaza Strip tugged at them. While visiting there one day they witnessed a riot. In the exact center of it they saw 2 boys, one Israeli and one Palestinian in a face off. Both armed with rocks and both wearing the same expression that said, “I do not want to be here.” And in that moment Larsen and Juul were transformed from bystanders to intermediaries. In that moment they changed from hopeless and believed that they could do something to change the circumstances.

In 1992 it was illegal for any Israeli official to speak with any member of the PLO. Problems contain solutions, and in this case it was the selection Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes), an economics professor from Haifa, as the Israeli representative. For the PLO it was Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), the PLO Finance Minister who was in London, across the street from where the “official” talks were being held because he was not allowed at the “official” talks. The two men were brought to a London hotel, settled in separate rooms, and at a designated signal sent solo into a third. Qurie confessed that this is the first time he will meet an Israeli face to face. We presume the same was true for Hirschfeld.

There is no interference. The men are left alone for hours. And they do indeed reach an agreement. Of sorts. The channel was opened.

But this is where the trapeze like trail is exposed to light and, therefore, the scrutiny of more eyes. In the background there is the escalating madness of events in Israel. People are shot, hacked to death, bombed. The Gaza Strip is sealed. To paraphrase Brecht – these negotiators live out the “I must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on” syndrome. The points of the agreement get more specific and delicate. The risk becomes greater. The possibility of failure increases exponentially.

The glue holding this thread of hope above the water line is Larsen and Juuul. Although they never appear to engage in the negotiations, they are the midwives, coddling, engaging, flattering and sometimes outright lying in order to keep the movement forward, in order to keep the possibility of peace present.

It is determined that a higher up is needed on the Israeli side and Uri Savir ((Michael Aronov) slides into the negotiations like a spider on ice. But, as if on command, the DOP (Declaration of Principles) takes on mind of its own and whispers, “Hold. Hold. hold.” J.T. Rogers’ text and Bartlett Sher’s direction guide this extraordinary cast (although a few accents are wildly inconsistent) through a verbal and incident packed obstacle course that, although we observers are removed by time and distance, is not only comprehendible, it is urgent and arresting. We not only understand, we feel.

It is no spoiler alert to say that this secret 9 month negotiation resulted in the Oslo Accord. It is also no spoiler to say that the subsequent failure of same, and the resulting state of affairs in Israel is spread across the headlines until we are numb to the devastation. Oslo will bring you back around to where you do not want to be: thinking of these people as your family. As Larsen says, sometimes we are the pigeon, sometimes we are the statue. We, in fact, are never just observers. 7.26.16

Lighting & Sound America, David Barbour – At the exact moment when this country — or the world, for that matter — seems hopelessly polarized, comes J.T. Rogers’ Oslo, a stunning account — both intimate and panoramic — of what can happen when deadly enemies dare to face each other across a negotiating table. The playwright has unearthed the hidden story behind the 1993 Oslo Accords, which, for a time at least, seemed to put Israel and the PLO on track toward a lasting peace treaty. Nearly a quarter of a century later, they still stand as a world-historic accomplishment — which makes it all the more shocking that they were facilitated, under cover of secrecy, by a midlevel Norwegian diplomat and her academic husband.

They would be Mona Juul and Terje Rød-Larsen; as the play begins, she is an official in Norway’s foreign ministry and he is director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science, originally a research organization for the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions. During the years that she was based in Cairo, they absorbed everything they could about the Middle East; galvanized by the sight of an Israeli soldier facing off against an enraged Palestinian boy during a riot in Gaza, Terje makes a modest proposal — that they attempt to facilitate a peace treaty between Israel and its mortal enemy.

The plan is marginally less crazy than it sounds. Mona and Terje have plenty of contacts on both sides, as well as a deep and sympathetic understanding of the warring cultures. Also, Terje has a theory that he is eager to test: “In international relations,” he says, “most conflicts are negotiated using the model of totalism. All issues of disagreement are put on the table, all organizations, representing all sides, are at the table. The rules are rigid, the process impersonal, and time and again the results are absolute failure.” His model “is rooted not in the organizational but in the personal. A system allowing the most implacable of adversaries to focus on a single issue of contention, resolve it, then move on to the next single issue, as they gradually build a bond of trust.”

Terje’s plan, which is madly ambitious and fraught with peril, involves creating an informal, back-channel line of communication to run alongside the official (and notably unfruitful) negotiation concurrently taking place in Washington; outside of the glare of the media, all the really difficult issues — sovereignty, security, the status of Jerusalem — could possibly be thrashed out. There’s no reason it should happen, except it does: True, the PLO sends a pair of highly placed officials, while Israel deploys a pair of unknown academics, but a beginning is made. (The choice of two Israeli economics professors highlights the radioactivity of Terje’s plan. It is illegal for Israeli officials to speak to members of the PLO. Yossi Beilin, the deputy foreign minister and Terje’s contact, is acting for foreign minister Shimon Peres, who has left Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the dark. And this is only the intrigue on one side of the talks.)

Astonishingly, real progress gets made, even as the process teeters perpetually on the edge of collapse. As Terje notes, “When you unleash the personal, the Furies can come out.” And so they do: Long-held grievances are aired and passionate denunciations are made. And, as the discussions become more intensive, the Palestinians demand more highly placed negotiating partners, a request that nearly derails the entire plan. (For their pains, they get Uri Savir, director general of the foreign ministry, a furious adversary who drags the discussion back almost to square one.) Mona is finally forced to reveal her activities to her boss, foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst, putting her own career in jeopardy. An American diplomat horns in briefly, just to let everyone know the US is watching them with a not-entirely sympathetic eye. And Torje treads perilously near becoming a con man, making unfillable promises and telling outright lies to keep all parties at the table.

Oslo is less about political positions — the well-known arguments that both sides have made for decades — than the political process itself, what can happen when standard protocol is put aside and all the parties involved begin to treat each other as human beings rather than faceless enemies. In Bartlett Sher‘s cogent, swiftly paced production, a vivid gallery of characters is brought to life by a superb cast. The roles of Terje and Mona are especially tricky; although they are the lead characters, their task is to stay on the sidelines, quietly nudging the process forward. Jefferson Mays‘ Terje burns with idealism and excitement in the early scenes; later, one can trace the rising anxiety in his face like a fever chart as the effort threatens to fall apart. Jennifer Ehle‘s Mona is briskly efficient — she often acts as narrator — and is also possessed of a dry, devastating sense of humor. (Irritated by Savir’s excessive need for secrecy, she murmurs, “As you know, every midlevel Israeli diplomat is a rock star in Norway.”) But, when the occasion demands, she is also capable of leaning in, planting her palms on the table, and brutally informing both sides that “the world has washed its hands of this conflict, because they do not believe you can change.” One of the most telling bits of staging features Ehle and Mays on separate telephones, listening in on each other’s calls, switching receivers back and forth as they juggle their agitated clients.

This is a true ensemble piece, however, and everyone delivers. Michael Aronov is the seemingly mercurial Savir, one minute denouncing his PLO counterparts, the next gleefully announcing they can do business; in an especially chilling moment, he brutally dismisses Terje, pointing to the others and saying, “We are in this. You are watching.” Anthony Azizi provides him with a formidable sparring partner as Ahmed Qurie, the PLO finance minister, who can turn a simple handshake into a complicated matter of protocol, yet who also quietly admits that if news of the talks gets out, he will most probably be killed. The scenes in which Savir and Qurie furiously trade concessions positively crackle; the moment when they realize what they might accomplish is deeply stirring.

The smart, incisive performances just keep coming. Adam Dannheisser is Beilin, cynically aware that the official negotiations are a sham and warily willing to try Terje’s plan. Daniel Jenkins doubles as an officious Norwegian diplomat and an untidy-looking Israeli economics professor. Dariush Kashani is the PLO’s resident communist, who nonetheless is won over by Norwegian hospitality (“Comrade Toril [the chef employed by Mona and Terje] is to food what Lenin is to land reform,” he notes). Daniel Oreskes is both an Israeli academic with a taste for crude jokes and a wily Shimon Peres, who, caught in an untruth, suavely asks, “What is a lie but a dream that could come true?”). And Joseph Siravo is the tough-minded lawyer brought in to turn both sides’ wish lists into minutely detailed reality, and who ends up nearly scuttling the deal altogether.

To keep the complex action moving at a headlong pace, Michael Yeargan has provided a simple, elegant set suggesting a salon in an Empire-style estate house; pieces of furniture are rolled on by the actors, resulting in lightning-quick scene changes. Donald Holder‘s lighting switches seamlessly between pinpoint zooms on one or two characters and broad washes that take in the entire company. The gray upstage wall of the set provides a screen for the projections by 59 Productions; perhaps because the images are so big, they are often delivered rather dimly, perhaps to avoid overwhelming the cast. But since they generally appear during scene changes, they mostly just seem hard to make out. Also, during certain scenes, a kind of wave effect is projected; however understated, it nevertheless proves distracting. Peter John Still‘s sound design, which includes sounds of urban battle and offstage applause, adds to the atmosphere without calling attention to itself. Catherine Zuber‘s costumes reveal the differing wardrobe choices of government officials on different levels.

American playwrights don’t often tackle big, rangy historical dramas such as this, which makes Rogers’ work even more valuable. (His plays include The Overwhelming, about the slaughter in Rwanda, and Blood and Gifts, about the struggle for control of Afghanistan in the early ’80s.) Oslo represents a remarkable feat of research distilled into a gripping dramatic format and gifted with a three-dimensional viewpoint that allows every character to have his or her say. That Rogers ends Oslo with the clear recognition that the legacy of the accords is a mixed one — he even entertains the possibility that it may have been a major mistake — proves that he has the skill to match his ambitions. It’s possible that this new season may offer plays as engrossing as Oslo, but it is unlikely in the extreme that we will get one with such an impressive breadth of vision. 7.18.16

AMNY, Matt Windman – Almost a quarter century after the fact, the significance of the Oslo Accord of 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (which led to the famous photo of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat at the South Lawn of the White House and a Nobel Peace Prize) is highly debatable.

Even if the agreement did not lead to a lasting peace or resolve many contested issues, did some good come out of it, including recognition by Israel and the PLO of their respective legitimacy? Or, did it instead intensify the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lead to more violence, including Rabin’s assassination?

J.T. Rogers, a politically-oriented playwright who has written about the Rwandan Genocide and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, dramatizes the tense negotiations that led to the Oslo Accord in his long-winded (three hours long!) but smart, occasionally humorous and objectively-observed ensemble drama “Oslo.”

It is receiving its world premiere at Lincoln Center Theater’s off-Broadway space, under the direction of Bartlett Sher, who is best known for the acclaimed Broadway revivals of “The King and I” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Rogers frames the play around a married pair of Norwegian diplomats (played by Tony winners Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle) who are unexpectedly able to broker an evolving series of secret peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives at a castle in Norway.

The performances are excellent and the spare, video-enhanced staging is seamless, accommodating swift changes in setting. The play may be dense and choppy, but a more narrow and delicate treatment probably could not have captured the scale and intensity of the political process. 7.11.16

The Wrap, Robert Hofler – J. T. Rogers delivers all the suspense that led the Israelis and PLO recognize each other’s legitimacy, but his play may leave you wanting more. It’s not every season that a new play clocks in at a leisurely three hours, puts 15 actors on stage, and most astoundingly, features two intermissions. Tracy Letts‘ “August: Osage County” from 2007 comes to mind, but that’s a family soap opera.

T. Rogers’s new play, “Oslo,” which opened Monday at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater in New York, is much grander, almost Shakespearean stuff. He brings to the stage nothing less than the inspired, complicated subterfuge that was the peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO that led to the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

Sound dry? Hardly. Rogers packs enough suspense, duplicity, and paranoia to recall the very best work of Alan J. Pakula, with a few of Alfred Hitchcock‘s better espionage pictures thrown into the mix.

The Oslo Accords were orchestrated by Mona Juul and Terje Rod-Larsen, who worked as officials in Norway’s foreign ministry. To their credit, Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays play this real-life married couple, making them every bit as colorless as you’d expect mid-level diplomats to be.

But there’s nothing bland about their scheme: Since it’s against Israeli law for any official to meet with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Juul and Rod-Larsen plan for the two Palestinians, Ahmed Qurie  (Anthony Azizi) and Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), to begin their clandestine negotiations with a couple of professors from the University of Haifa, Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes) and Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins).

That’s basically the first act of “Oslo.” The anxiety and fear of disclosure increases dramatically in the second act when an Israeli official, Uri Savir (Michael Aronov) of the foreign ministry, enters the picture. As opponents on stage, Azizi and Aronov are extremely well-matched in the size of their grandstanding egos. Seemingly, these kinds of international agreements only get made because some players, like Juul and Rod-Larsen, have the audacity to remain faceless while they manipulate the outsize personalities in the room.

In the third act, the drama reaches the boiling point when Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres (Oreskes) enters the negotiations via telephone, and the U.S. government is informed, but somewhat later.

Rogers and director Bartlett Sher are good at telling a complicated story, creating suspense, and keeping over 20 characters from merging into one another. But to achieve these not inconsiderable ends, “Oslo” sometimes stoops to the level of boulevard theater despite its mighty political themes. Too many of the characters are emerge only as broad types. Certainly we never confuse the Israelis and the Palestinians, but often that’s because the one group indulges in schmaltz while the other never stops shouting.

There’s also a Norwegian housekeeper (Henny Russell) who recalls Loretta Young in “The Farmer’s Daughter” and whose scrumptious waffles are credited with world peace. Most superficially written and performed is Juul and Rod-Larsen’s boss, Norway’s Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith), who is reduced to something of a buffoon whenever he’s at a loss for words, which is often, and he repeats the F-word four times in quick succession.

Rogers even indulges in a bit of real Broadway shtick. Just as Neil Simon liked to make fun of New Jersey and the boroughs, Rogers turns Haifa into the butt of a few jokes. Instilling superiority in an audience is always good for laugh.

Rogers captures the mechanics of the negotiations and Sher’s direction keeps them moving at hyper speed. What we aren’t given during the course of this three-hour play is a character study. Who are Juul and Rod-Larsen? They narrate the drama, give a great deal of exposition, and they keep each other’s egos to the size of a peanut. In “Oslo” they emerge more as devices than characters. 7.11.16

Edge Media Network, Jonathan Leaf – If you Google the phrase “Oslo Peace Accords,” one of the first things that come up is “failure.” Like pepper goes with salt, a horse with carriage and Kanye with a nutjob, the Oslo Peace Accords seem to have become inextricably linked with a single idea: unsuccess.

In the epic new drama “Oslo,” playwright J. T. Rogers presents the events of the real life meetings between representatives of the PLO and the Israeli government as a tale of brave achievement. And whether you agree or disagree with this interpretation of events, there can be no doubting that the author has crafted his remarkable achievement, managing to edify and amuse in equalmeasure while relating momentous events of the very recent past.

In an article I wrote in The Weekly Standard a few years ago, I suggested that Rogers had overtaken Tony Kushner in his skills as the author of grand works of American theater dealing with contemporary politics. After “Oslo,” I think this cannot be disputed. Everything that was missing from works like “Homebody/Kabul” and “Angels in America” is present here: intellect is matched to enormous facility at story construction, wit is combined with skillful character creation.

If there is some rough exposition in the play’s first act, it is absent in the second and third acts of this nearly three-hour drama that brought its audience to a rapt state by its conclusion. Moreover, Rogers tells his tale without Kushner’s fatuous Marxist sermonizing.

The central characters of “Oslo” are the two actual people who managed to insert themselves into the Israeli-Palestinian debate: Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) and his diplomat wife, Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle). The head of the privately-funded Fafo Institute, Larsen used his wife’s political connections to introduce non-governmental figures in the Israeli Labor Party to ranking PLO officers.

From these low-level exchanges and booze-filled evenings, the peace process of the early 1990s arose. In this way, Rød-Larsen both aimed to act on behalf of peace and to prove his theories about negotiating processes. These concepts emphasize the creation of personal bonds of trust as the first step towards broader dealings.

If that sounds like the driest of subjects, then Rogers must primarily be given credit as he manages to create an atmosphere of high stakes and passion, turning what might be a labored history lesson into stimulating and often quite funny entertainment.

He is assisted in this by Bartlett Sher’s direction. Working with a superior ensemble, Sher permits his cast to play scenes to the hilt. The result is acting that varies from dazzling to stagy and histrionic. But the performances are never lifeless or dull. And the play’s many jokes consistently land.

Rogers also manages to capture the spirit and the temper of middle eastern men. The machismo and the flamboyance of both the Israeli and the Arab diplomats are shown with all its occasional obnoxiousness.

Because the story involves so many characters, many members of the fourteen-person cast are asked to play multiple roles. Among the standouts in the company are Ehle as the long-suffering Mona Juul, the invariably excellent Mays, Joseph Siravo as a Jewish lawyer charged with parsing the language in the negotiations’ preliminary documents and Ahmed Qurie as the PLO Finance Minister. The production also manages to make good use of the gifted Michael Aronov in the part of a self-infatuated Israeli diplomat who regards himself as God’s most precious gift to the female of the species.

I must make a disclosure here. I have come to know Rogers recently, and I like him. So I am glad that this rave review is but one of many laurels now being tossed his way. This respect is principally coming to him because the excellence of his work is proving harder and harder to ignore. I suspect, however, that this appreciation is easier for the press to provide him on behalf of a play whose ending is sunnier, less despairing and more in tune with the attitudes and beliefs of the intelligentsia.

There is, of course, a certain irony in this. For while “Oslo” sees its story as an affirmative one, the play cannot be performed anywhere in the Arab world. Nor will it be staged in Turkey, Iran or Pakistan. This is not because of its large cast size but because these countries are too far from anything akin to pluralism to acknowledge that there are two sides to an argument, what the play seeks to offer its audiences.

And, as such, real peace between radical Islam and Israel remains sadly far away. Indeed, just a year after the Oslo Accords was signed Yassir Arafat gave a speech in Ramallah, calling the agreement a “hudna,” a temporary peace which would precede a later massacre of Jews. Rogers play suggests that had the Accords not been signed worse would have come, and he may well be right.

Regardless, we are surely fortunate to have a play of such skill and brilliance. 7.18.16

Theatre Pizzazz, Carol Rocamora – September 13, 1993: President William Clinton stands in the White House Rose Garden, watching two mortal enemies –their nations drenched in each other’s blood – shake hands. They are Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and they’ve just signed the historic Oslo Peace Accord.

It’s one of the iconic images of our times, and yet the truth behind it has remained hidden – until now. Two Norwegian diplomats, Terje Rod-Larsen and Mona Juul, had created a clandestine back channel, facilitating secret conversations between Israelis and Palestinians that violated their laws, protocols and diplomatic precedents, putting everyone involved at extreme risk. The result was a momentous agreement that till that day seemed downright impossible.

When American playwright J. T. Rogers learned of this truth (through a conversation with the Norwegian couple), he knew this would be a play he had to write.  “I am awed by the personal and political courage it took,” he told The New York Times, expressing admiration for these unsung heroes. “It is a moment of history that I do not want forgotten.”

The result is Oslo, a riveting political play now playing at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. Its scope is ambitious, employing 21 characters, multiple locations, and three hours to dramatize the secret negotiations that led up to that historical moment in the Rose Garden.

The story begins with Rod-Larsen’s deep-seated conviction that if you can get an Israeli and a Palestinian in a room together alone, dealing with one issue at a time, “you will change the world.” As such a meeting was officially forbidden by both sides at the time, Rod-Larsen had to recruit non-officials and carry out his plan in top secret. In the series of scenes, narrated by Rod-Larsen and Juul, we watch these intrepid Norwegians recruit two Israeli professors with no diplomatic experience to agree to meet with non-authorized Palestinian counterparts.

The first meeting is held in an 800-year-old Norwegian castle on January 20, 1993 in an atmosphere of extreme hostility. It lasts two and a half days with no break, in the midst of a wild snowstorm. (“It’s a true tragedy that we were approached by the Norwegians and not the Californians,” says one negotiator ironically.)

But the faith of the Norwegians – standing outside those closed doors – never wavers. As Juul says: “Two men in a room exchange handshakes and history begins to change.”

As negotiations continue, the tension mounts. The secret sessions have been leaked to the Americans; there are international repercussions, the Norwegians are in deep trouble, and the meetings are in peril. And yet against all odds, a remarkable relationship evolved between the negotiators, notably between two adversaries who discover they each have a daughter named Maya. “Our peoples live in the past. Let us find a way to live in the present, together,” says one side. “We four will forge a peace or there will be no peace,” says another. “Stay in the room and find way forward,” says Juul at one perilous point.

Ultimately, the unimaginable becomes reality. High echelon government negotiators take over. Israel agrees to give up Gaza and Jericho, and accept the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian people; Palestine agrees to accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

Seamlessly directed by the skillful Bartlett Sher, the 12-actor ensemble offers superb performances, including Jefferson Mays as an idealistic Rod-Larsen, Jennifer Ehle as a compassionate Juul, Dariush Kashani as a soulful Hassan Asfour, and Michael Aronov as a flamboyant Uri Savir.

Rogers offers a tragic coda to the story, forecasting the violent conflict that continues after 1993 (Rabin’s assassination, the second Intifada, the Gaza Wars, etc.). “I’m struggling to know if what we did and how we did it was right,” says Juul ruefully.   What’s “right” is the passionate commitment that Rogers has made to telling this story, showing that personal acts of heroism can indeed make a difference – if only two enemies would sit down in a room together and talk.

Like other recent compelling historical plays (e. g. Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen), Oslo offers lessons to be learned, if only we would heed them. 7.11.16

Financial Times, Max MacGuinness – What now remains of the Oslo Peace Process? Perhaps only J.T. Rogers’ engaging new play about how a Norwegian sociologist, Terje Rød-Larsen, and his diplomat wife facilitated secret Israeli-Palestinian meetings that led to that historic handshake on the White House lawn between Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat in September 1993.

It all seems very long ago. “The grip of history is loosening,” as Larsen declares in the first scene. “In our lifetime there will not be another moment like this,” he later adds.

Since those heady days at the end of the cold war, history’s grasp has closed ever tighter around the Middle East. A poignant sense of dramatic irony thus hangs over Oslo. For more than two and a half hours, the rival delegations go at each other hammer and tongs while gradually moving towards a deal. But we know it is all destined to end in failure.

The play itself succeeds in drawing us into the minutiae of now dimly remembered diplomatic brawling. It’s a dramatically conventional and occasionally heavy-handed work lacking the intellectual zing that a Michael Frayn or a Tony Kushner might have brought to the material. But the many frustrations and occasional triumphs of the year-long negotiations are scrupulously conveyed. Bartlett Sher’s by-the-book staging also seems in keeping with the gravity of the subject.

Among the dexterous, accent-juggling ensemble, Joseph Siravo stands out for his imposing portrayal of Israeli brain and brawn in the role of Joel Singer, the lawyer and ex-army officer who authored much of the final agreement. Jefferson Mays also impresses as Larsen, the unassuming functionary whose latent desire for prestige and influence slowly reveals itself.

Like Larsen, who was the original source for the story, Rogers avoids openly taking sides. Yet he drops hints throughout the script that the Palestinians, exhausted by decades of war and exile, were desperate to cut a deal at all costs and eventually came away with relatively little.

At the end, Larsen, clearly preoccupied with his own place in history, begs us to glimpse “the possibility” of a future peace. But no, we can’t see it any more. 7.11.16

Forward, Anna Katsnelson – According to a famous study conducted by psychologist Arthur Aron two decades ago, all it takes to fall in love with someone is to stare at the person for four minutes and ask a series of 36 personal questions. “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers,” Aron and his co-authors wrote, “is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.”

J.T. Rogers’s new play, “Oslo,” re-creates something like a geopolitical test case for this theory, placing agents from both sides in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in a room where they spend time getting to know each other, not only as holders of opposing positions but also as human beings with shared interests. The play also includes as key ingredients to the peace process a lot of good whiskey and Scandinavian delicacies, both waffles and a bevy of long-legged, sharp-witted, maternal Scandinavian women.

“Oslo” is a dramatization of the Oslo Accords, and the effort by a Norwegian powerhouse couple, Mona Juul and Terje Roed-Larsen, to achieve what the United States in its role as Middle East mediator was failing to do. The play takes place in 1992 and 1993, when Juul, who works for the Norwegian foreign minister, and her husband, Roed-Larsen, a director of the Fafo Institute, decided to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict af

Forward, Anna Katsnelson – According to a famous study conducted by psychologist Arthur Aron two decades ago, all it takes to fall in love with someone is to stare at the person for four minutes and ask a series of 36 personal questions. “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers,” Aron and his co-authors wrote, “is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.”

J.T. Rogers’s new play, “Oslo,” re-creates something like a geopolitical test case for this theory, placing agents from both sides in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in a room where they spend time getting to know each other, not only as holders of opposing positions but also as human beings with shared interests. The play also includes as key ingredients to the peace process a lot of good whiskey and Scandinavian delicacies, both waffles and a bevy of long-legged, sharp-witted, maternal Scandinavian women.

“Oslo” is a dramatization of the Oslo Accords, and the effort by a Norwegian powerhouse couple, Mona Juul and Terje Roed-Larsen, to achieve what the United States in its role as Middle East mediator was failing to do. The play takes place in 1992 and 1993, when Juul, who works for the Norwegian foreign minister, and her husband, Roed-Larsen, a director of the Fafo Institute, decided to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after official negotiations held in the United States between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel stalled.

Roed-Larsen (his first name is pronounced Tyre, and he is played by the affable Jefferson Mays) has the ear of both the Israeli deputy foreign minister, Yossi Beilin, and that of the finance minister of the PLO, Ahmed Qurei, or Abu Ala (played by Anthony Azizi). He sets up the shadow peace process to the effort stalling in Washington.

After many meetings in London and Oslo, the Israelis and Palestinians begin to exhibit camaraderie and respect, and even begin to enjoy each other’s company. Into this mix is introduced the brazen, narcissistic Uri Savir (director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, played with real gusto by Michael Aronov), who is appointed by Beilin to make the talks more official. Yet, even this mercurial figure, who is at first profoundly skeptical, begins to work with the other side.

The conversations that take place during the almost three-hour-long running time of “Oslo” will hold the attention of those with an existing interest in the history of the Middle East peace process and the challenges that remain. The play also comes replete with Arafat and Kissinger jokes. But it struggles to convey larger moral implications. Rogers was clearly won over by the unassuming figures of Mona Juul and Terje Roed-Larsen. He takes them at their word that the Oslo Accords were the best thing that happened for Israeli-Palestinian relations. No inherent criticism of the Accords is permitted, and with this absolute certainty comes a lack of nuance.

“I think it’s also important, in order to restore hope a little in today’s world, to know that it is actually possible to bring two sides that have so much animosity together and help them make compromise,” Juul said in an interview included in the play’s program. Maybe the raison d’ etre for this play is to inspire future Juuls and Roed-Larsens.

A play about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a happy ending may seem hard to believe, and it does gloss over some important facts. Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian writer and lawyer writing for the LCT publication, notes that the Oslo Accords did not deal with one of the most important issues — the settlements. In her interview, Juul said that it was members of the PLO who first approached the Norwegian Foreign Ministry about creating a shadow of the Washington negotiations, yet Rogers does not credit them with this step.

Rogers’s previous play “Blood and Gifts” made the story of the first U.S. involvement in Afghanistan during the Russian morass relevant to the American struggles in that country. “Oslo,” Unfortunately, lacks the same historic weight and immediacy. 7.15.16

The Epoch Times, Judd Hollander —While behind-the-scenes stories of how deals get made can be wonderfully interesting, the real surprise is often that they’re able to get made at all—even when both sides actually want the deal to happen.

Brilliantly exploring this situation is J.T. Rogers’s drama “Oslo,” now at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, which details the events that led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This fascinating examination of politics and human nature runs through Aug. 28.

In 1992, two Norwegians—socialist Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) and his diplomat wife, Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle)—after having previously witnessed an explosive standoff on the streets of Jerusalem, begin to explore the possibility of quietly facilitating off-the-grid negotiations between the Israeli government and the PLO. They hope to fashion a road map to peace.

While high-level talks were already going on in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere at the time, these did not include the PLO, which was considered a terrorist organization at the time. Yet everybody knew just how important a Middle East player this group actually was.

Using Norway’s political position as a starting point—the country supported both sides to a degree—Juul is able to convince Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), the PLO finance minister, to meet with Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes), an Israeli senior professor of economics.

Over the next nine months, the two people talking becomes four, then five, and so on, as more and more people are drawn into these Oslo meetings—all with the tacit approval of higher-ups on both sides, and all held under the strictest veil of secrecy. The Israeli government officially refused to even speak to the PLO at the time.

As the play makes clear, an important starting point in any negotiation is to find common ground. This was not an easy task because many of those involved had never even met someone from the other side before.

But away from media glare and direct political pressure, common goals began to emerge. Mutual economic cooperation was needed if the two sides were to survive and prosper. And no one from either side wanted their children to be forced to continue a struggle that had been going on for generations.

In a particularly nice touch, Rogers’s text highlights not only the headline-grabbing issues, such as the legitimacy of Israel in Palestinian eyes and the question of Palestine control in occupied territories, but also more mundane matters. When it comes to running a government, how will matters of education, taxation, and garbage collection be resolved?

Far more than simply political discourse, with preaching kept to a minimum, the play shows itself to be a human drama leavened with humor. (“Sometimes we are the pigeons, sometimes we are the statue.”) And the characters, many of whom exist in real life, come across as fully formed.

Although there are a few humorous swipes at the heavy-handedness of diplomacy (particularly when the American government is involved), much more powerful are the political realities brought forth.

One reality is that one does not make peace with friends, but rather with those “who bomb your markets and blow up your buses.” Another is that both sides realize just how much they have to lose.

The play is tightly directed by Bartlett Sher, who wisely allows the story to take center stage.

Running almost three hours, each of Rogers’s scenes and situations feels essential. Necessary are the negotiations and the people introduced both outside and inside the room where they take place.

Necessary, too, is the bit of humanity that seeps in, such as when Ahmed Qurie and Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), a member of the Israeli negotiating team, find out they both have daughters with the same name. Not a moment feels wasted or extraneous.

Mays is perfect as Rod-Larsen, someone desperately trying to bring together the people necessary to reach a deal, but who can’t get involved in the negotiations himself, as much as he might like to.

Ehle works quite well as his more grounded wife, who tries to balance her diplomatic experience with the need to stretch protocol in order to help along the situation.

Azizi, Aronov, and Joseph Siravo are very good in their roles as negotiators. Each comes in with his own set of preconceived notions and expectations, but all ultimately put them aside in order to make the deal possible.

While the Oslo Accords are certainly not the be-all and end-all of the Middle East issue, another point the play makes quite clear is that they did demonstrate what can be possible, as well as what could be possible for the future.

Also in the cast are T. Ryder Smith, Daniel Jenkins, Henny Russell, Christopher McHale, Jeb Kreager, Dariush Kashani, Adam Dannheisser, and Angela Pierce.

The Jewish Week, Ted Merwin – Back Channel To A Fleeting Peace. What ‘Oslo’ gets right (and wrong) about the Israeli-Palestinian Accords. Some of the most important events in our lives happen behind our backs. While violence between the Israelis and Palestinians continues to make headlines, diplomats have said that any negotiations that have a chance of success must be conducted in secret. This is the lesson of the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, which set a framework for peace negotiations between the Israelis and the PLO. J.T. Rogers’ suspenseful, cleverly written new play, “Oslo,” which opened last week at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, tells how a pair of married Norwegian diplomats contrived, against the odds, to bring representatives of the two sides together to make historic concessions that led, ultimately to the first agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Directed by Bartlett Sher (“Fiddler on the Roof” and “The King and I”), “Oslo” focuses on Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle) and Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays), the Norwegian envoys who, after living in Cairo and touring the Middle East, ended up facilitating the talks after being approached by the PLO. Without telling Mona’s boss, Norway’s Mnister of Foreign Affairs Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith), the couple open up a back channel between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, which lead to initial meetings at a Norwegian castle between Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes), a professor of economics at the University of Haifa, and Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), the finance minister for the PLO (which was then in exile in Tunis), along with their respective subordinates, Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins) and Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani).

But the negotiations kick into high gear only when the Israelis grudgingly send in their A team — Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), the swaggering director-general of the Foreign Ministry, and imperturbable Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo), the legal expert for the ministry who practices law in Washington, D.C. Through all their bluster and braggadocio, their trading of insult and invective, and their constant need to one-up each other and claim the higher moral position, the men stumble their way to a truer understanding of what each other needs to make the process work. The periodic outbreak of horrific violence between the Israelis and Palestinians is shown through braggadocio, their trading of insult and invective, and their constant need to one-up each other and claim the higher moral position, the men stumble their way to a truer understanding of what each other needs to make the process work. The periodic outbreak of horrific violence between the Israelis and Palestinians is shown through projections of photos, emphasizing what is at stake in the negotiations.

Few American playwrights have taken on diplomatic negotiations as their subject; the British tend to be more interested in such themes. Shakespeare’s “King John” is about the negotiations that ensue when the British and French disagree about which country has the right to the English throne. David Edgar’s “The Shape of the Table,” which premiered at the National Theatre in London in 1990, is about the negotiations involved in an Eastern European Communist state’s transition to democracy. And a revival of David Hare’s 2004 play, “Stuff Happens,” about the negotiations between the United States and Great Britain that led to the American invasion of Iraq, just opened in London.

Rogers, who is based in Brooklyn, is a prolific playwright best known for “Madagascar,” a prize-winning play about three Americans who each find themselves, at different times, in the same hotel room in Rome. He has a wonderful facility for writing dialogue; the characters in “Oslo” are credible and heart-stirring, as they contemplate the chasm between them. As Kurei says at one point, “Between our people lies a vast ocean; let us be the first to cross and stand upon the other shore.” When Savir and Qurie discover that they each have a daughter named Maya, they bond in an unexpected and moving way.

Sher, who directs the play in a straight-forward and lucid way, is helped by a talented and quite large cast (a couple of whose members double in different roles) which does a creditable job with both the Norwegian and Israeli accents (although Daniel Oreskes’ Shimon Peres made me long for Jackie Mason’s more spot-on rendition of the former prime minister’s distinctively slow and sonorous voice). In any case, though, “Oslo” is more focused on plot than character. Mays, who has starred on Broadway in “I Am My Own Wife” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” has little scope for his chameleon-like abilities as the husband and envoy, since his mild-mannered character is constantly required to take a back seat to the real action that is taking place between the Israelis and the Palestinians; the Norwegians may have facilitated the outbreak of horrific violence between the Israelis and Palestinians is shown through projections of photos, emphasizing what is at stake in the negotiations.

Few American playwrights have taken on diplomatic negotiations as their subject; the British tend to be more interested in such themes. Shakespeare’s “King John” is about the negotiations that ensue when the British and French disagree about which country has the right to the English throne. David Edgar’s “The Shape of the Table,” which premiered at the National Theatre in London in 1990, is about the negotiations involved in an Eastern European Communist state’s transition to democracy. And a revival of David Hare’s 2004 play, “Stuff Happens,” about the negotiations between the United States and Great Britain that led to the American invasion of Iraq, just opened in London.

Rogers, who is based in Brooklyn, is a prolific playwright best known for “Madagascar,” a prize-winning play about three Americans who each find themselves, at different times, in the same hotel room in Rome. He has a wonderful facility for writing dialogue; the characters in “Oslo” are credible and heart-stirring, as they contemplate the chasm between them. As Kurei says at one point, “Between our people lies a vast ocean; let us be the first to cross and stand upon the other shore.” When Savir and Qurie discover that they each have a daughter named Maya, they bond in an unexpected and moving way.

Sher, who directs the play in a straight-forward and lucid way, is helped by a talented and quite large cast (a couple of whose members double in different roles) which does a creditable job with both the Norwegian and Israeli accents (although Daniel Oreskes’ Shimon Peres made me long for Jackie Mason’s more spot-on rendition of the former prime minister’s distinctively slow and sonorous voice). In any case, though, “Oslo” is more focused on plot than character. Mays, who has starred on Broadway in “I Am My Own Wife” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” has little scope for his chameleon-like abilities as the husband and envoy, since his mild-mannered character is constantly required to take a back seat to the real action that is taking place between the Israelis and the Palestinians; the Norwegians may have facilitated the meetings, but they are not the intermediaries, and are not privy to the official discussions.

In a sense, the audience is put in the same position, as so many of the negotiations take place off-stage; we must wait for the doors to open to find out if progress has been made. It is the boundary between the negotiating room and dining room (where the characters are supposed to socialize and develop personal ties, but not discuss business) that is breached during the course of the play, as the characters’ enmities spill out and cry out for resolution that is not just political in nature but emotional as well. When the Oslo Accords are finally signed by Yasir Arafat and Yitzchak Rabin at the White House in 1993, the play reaches its jubilant climax.

Nevertheless, while “Oslo” has a three-hour running time, it still feels incomplete in terms of providing the political background for the play. The negotiations seem to be taking place in somewhat of a vacuum; the geopolitical context is not always clear. As the real Uri Savir has written in his 1999 book on Oslo, “The Process: 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East,” it was the break-up of the Soviet Union, the rise of Iran as a regional superpower, and the growth of religious fundamentalism throughout the Arab world that helped to turn the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict into such a powder keg.

The real pathos — or even tragedy — of “Oslo” is how ultimately unsuccessful the accords were, and how they led to the assassination OF Rabin, who was killed, during a celebration of the accords, by a radical Israeli, Yigal Amir, who opposed them. But in putting the spotlight on a brief period of time in which mutual recognition and even respect were possible, the entertaining and thought-provoking play comes as a much-needed reminder of the potential for peace in the Middle East.

NJ.com, Christopher Kelly – A story of process, patience and the painstaking art of negotiation, J.T. Rogers’ play “Oslo” — now playing at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater — manages a seemingly impossible feat: It transforms three hours of talk about the Oslo Accords into gripping and urgent entertainment.

Rogers (whose “Blood and Gifts,” about the Afghanistan-Soviet conflict in the 1980s, was staged at Lincoln Center in 2011) focuses on a Norwegian couple and their behind-the-scenes efforts to help broker the historic 1993 peace agreement between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.

If you didn’t know that a pair of Norwegians — a mid-level diplomat and her social scientist husband — were key figures in the negotiation process, well, that’s very much Rogers’ point. “Oslo” shows us that it often takes a village working frantically behind the scenes to bring about the photo ops — in this instance, the one of Rabin and Arafat shaking hands in front of President Clinton at the White House  — that commemorate major historical change.

At the start of the play, the Norwegians, Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”) and his wife Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle, “The Real Thing”), are keen to put Terje’s political theory into practice. The Middle East peace negotiations, he believes, have taken place on too large and public a scale to be effective. But, Terje says, if you put the opposing sides into a room, far away from the glare of the media, and let them talk face-to-face, they will eventually find common ground.

And that’s pretty much what this couple is able to pull off, though not without countless missteps, backslides, lapses in protocol and near-disasters. (Rogers based the play on interviews with the couple and his own research, though he acknowledges that most of the dialogue and some of the incidents depicted here are his invention.

Crisply directed by Bartlett Sher (“Fiddler on the Roof”), “Oslo” features 21 characters and hopscotches from Terje and Mona’s Oslo flat, to restaurants and bars in Tel Aviv, to the remote Norwegian estate where the bulk of the negotiations take place. Yet never once does any of this feel confusing or bloated. Instead Rogers shows us how historical change is, in effect, the accumulation of tiny details: the delicious waffles served by the estate’s housekeeper, for instance, which at first are the only things the Israelis and Palestinians can agree on, or the elaborate code words that the various players employ to communicate. This is how the sausage gets made, and “Oslo” makes that process thrilling to witness.

Funny, too. Rogers has great fun with the absurdities of the scenario, including the fact that the first two Israelis sent to the negotiating table were a pair of B-list academics (played by Daniel Oreskes and Daniel Jenkins). But the playwright also never loses sight of the grim irony that hangs over these proceedings: That 23 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, peace in the region seems farther away than ever.

The cast is exceptional, with particular props to Mays and Ehle, who serve as our anchors in the complicated story, and who smartly refuse to offer easy answers to the fundamental mystery at the heart of the story: Namely, why did these unknown Norwegians become so deeply invested in the negotiation?

Their actions remain open to interpretation, even as Mays and Ehle hint at some sort of combination of earnestness, ambition and undiagnosed megalomania. As “Oslo” so smartly reminds us, the history books — and even the history plays — can only tell us so much of what truly happened. 7.11.16

North Jersey.com, Robert Feldberg – In his previous play, “Blood and Gifts,” he looked at a CIA agent who secretly helped arm Afghanistan’s warlords fighting the Soviet invaders in the 1980s.

In “Oslo,” which opened Monday night at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, he celebrates a Norwegian married couple, Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle) and Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays), who’re presented as conceiving and facilitating the back-channel negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestine Liberation Organization that led to the 1993 Oslo Accord, which established a “road map to peace” between the two sides.

Juul was a Norwegian diplomat — she’s currently her country’s ambassador to Great Britain — and Rod-Larsen a social scientist, who believed that previous efforts at negotiating were doomed because of their traditional format: Enemies seated across the table from one another, arguing, from positions of intransigence, over scores of issues.

His plan was for one problem to be taken up at a time, discussed and resolved before going on to the next one. Equally important, he thought the negotiators needed to first get to know one another as people, so they could form a bond of trust.

That notion fits neatly into Rogers’ scheme of relating history through the personalities of its participants. All the characters in “Oslo,” even supporting figures, are given distinctive qualities.

That helps make the well-acted play, which runs an overlong three hours, surprisingly lively and involving, even with the dramatic problems that confronted Rogers and director Bartlett Sher.

Juul, who’s presented a bit facilely as universally adored, and Rod-Larsen, obsessed with his organizational-psychology negotiating scheme, don’t participate in the substantive talks, which mostly take place in an unseen room.

So, as the process they’ve initiated gets down to business, they recede into becoming bystanders. They wait, like us, to hear what’s happening elsewhere.

Periodically, they’re animated by the worry that the hush-hush talks will be exposed, which would kill them. That injects a bit of suspense into the evening, although the threat never seems really imminent.

The evening’s focus has shifted, meanwhile, to the negotiators, who begin to relax with one another, sharing personal details and even becoming friendly, as they live, eat and bargain together in a remote Norwegian castle.

There’s the intense Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), the PLO’s finance minister and lead negotiator, and his assistant, Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), a blunt Marxist.

The initial negotiators for Israel, which refuses to send government officials, are two economics professors (Daniel Oreskes and Daniel Jenkins), presented as somewhat comic figures.

When the talks begin to make progress, they’re replaced by Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), a tough foreign ministry figure who wears a black leather coat and struts around with over-the-top flamboyance.

In showcasing the characters, Rogers injects crowd-pleasing humor and sentimentality, but in reasonable doses. The vital importance of the secret talks, coming after many decades of conflict, is dominant.

Despite the air of victory when a framework for future negotiations is agreed upon, it’s easy to see now the severe shortcomings of the pact, which left undecided such vital issues as the future of Jerusalem and West Bank settlements and the nature of final borders.

There was a historic agreement-signing in Washington, with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and President Clinton, but peace didn’t follow.

The play concludes with a glass-half-full sentiment, noting that significant changes did result from the negotiations, including the creation of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

It also notes that Qurie and Savir, who happen to have daughters with the same name, remain in friendly contact to this day, a small beacon of hope that a much larger coming-together will one day be possible. 7.11.16

BKmag.com, Dan Callahan – Longing for Peace: Sadly, Oslo, the play, mirrors reality .In the aftermath of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which were signed on September 13, 1993, in the White House Rose Garden, there was hope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might finally start moving toward a solution and ceasefire; this was reflected in the famous photograph of President Bill Clinton standing between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and head of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, as they shook hands. The road leading up to that handshake is explored by playwright J.T. Rogers in Oslo, a play that tells the story of behind the scenes maneuvering by a married pair of Norwegian diplomats, Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) and Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle).

Oslo lasts three hours and has two intermissions, and it leads you through many details of what it took to get Israeli officials and PLO leaders talking to each other and negotiating in secret in the early 1990s. All the performers in a large cast here work hard to give this material a sense of urgency, but all they finally seem to be doing is moving chairs and tables on and off and telling us and each other what is happening now and what will be happening next. This production moves fast, but it still seems to go by at a glacial pace— and that’s mainly because Rogers has failed to dramatize the situation and the relationships between the key players.

If Oslo had been written and performed soon after that historic handshake between Rabin and Arafat, it might have had a claim on our attention as the story of a heroic, obscure couple working stealthily to resolve a deadly conflict where so many other blustery and public officials had failed. But you have to ask yourself why this story is being told in such depth over twenty years after the Oslo Peace Accords have been made to look like a photo op and no more in an ongoing struggle that continues to take lives on both sides. The play ends with a grim recitation of the many killings and flare-ups between the Israelis and Palestinians since 1993, and so Oslo begins to seem like a sad and moot tale of well meaning people who were in over their heads.

The main failing of Oslo is that it does not make the conflicts between the individual characters come alive in any but the most conventional ways. The sprightly Mays does an English accent and seems to be acting in a drawing room comedy while Ehle does a good Norwegian accent while plying her estimable warmth and theatrical vitality in the vacuum that surrounds her; they never seem like they are an actual married couple and we don’t learn much of anything about their relationship beyond their role in the peace talks.

Some of the actors playing the Israelis and the Palestinians lean heavily on flashy and stereotypical behavior to get across the heavy-handed points of both factions, particularly Michael Aronov as the excitable Uri Savir and Dariush Kashani as Hassan Asfour, who erupts periodically into strident and very loud Communist rhetoric. Sadly, Oslo the play is like the Oslo Peace Accords themselves: a gesture toward resolution but finally an exhausting exercise in futility. 7.14.16

LI Herald, Elyse Trevers – If you ever really wanted to be in the room where it happened, here’s your chance. What you read in the papers and hear on the evening news may not be the truth – especially when it concerns Middle East peace talks.
In the latest offering at Lincoln Center, ‘Oslo,’ by J.T.Rogers (Blood and Gifts), the audience becomes privy to the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993.
Jennifer Ehle plays Mona Juul, a Norwegian official in the Foreign Ministry, who along with her husband, Terje (Jefferson Mays), broker unofficial and unsanctioned secret meetings between Israelis and Palestinians. The designated Israeli participants were professors from Haifa since it was illegal for government officials to participate in talks with the PLO. As the first document begins to take shape, the importance of the negotiators in the talks change and soon Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign minister, is made aware of what is going on.
This compact play — as compact as any three-hour play can be — depicts nine months of secret meetings. As official peace talks were going on elsewhere in the country, an unofficial back channel was opened. Terje’s theory was to put the two sides in a room where people could say whatever they want without a moderator. He and his wife merely facilitated the arrangements. Sometimes the audience watches the secret talks but at other times must stay with Mona and Terje as they wait outside the closed meeting room.
Although the events are real, the characters based on real people are somewhat stereotypical. The professors are disheveled and doofy; one makes his entrance telling jokes. The Israeli official Uri Savir (Michael Aronov) is overbearing and brash and Israel’s lawyer, Joel Singer, is imperious. The head of the Palestinian delegation, Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), is alternatively suave and arrogant.
While the play is based on real people and real history, the playwright notes that “this is his history.”
Mona is our narrator putting a face on the events, commenting even as very real and frightening events unfold on the wall behind the stage. She provides the touch of reality, affection and, on occasion, even humor. Ehle is warm and believable. Jefferson Mays, a marvelous actor, is confident and strong-willed as Terje.
The production is a wonderful piece of theater, especially given how much is done with so little. There’s minimal staging and a well-chosen talented cast. The dialogue, reminiscent of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, has actors talking over and interrupting each other – much like in real life.
The length may be problematic for some theatergoers and keep them from attending.
The play also poses some unanswered questions. Asked why he’s brokering peace talks, especially since the clandestine meetings can potentially destroy both his and his wife’s careers, Terje gives no satisfactory response. It’s unclear as to why both sides unfairly mock Terje in a scene after their secret discussions. There’s also a silver-haired American diplomat who, although unnamed, seems to have authority. Could that be Clinton?
By the end, the accord is signed. As with other historical plays, the audience knows the conclusion before the play begins. Yet the ending of ‘Oslo’ is profoundly moving. Within a short time, violence resumes and people are killed. Yet Shavir and Asfour continue to stay in touch, having bonded over the coincidence of their daughters having the same name (Maya) and a desire for a peaceful world for their families.
Ultimately the Accords did little to no good and only secured a short-lived peace. One has only to read the papers to wonder, as Mona did, if this was worth doing. 7.19.16

truthiness blog, james feinberg –       For those of us who have gazed despairingly from the sidelines at seemingly endless cock-ups by politicians of levels high and low and thought to ourselves, “Well, I could do better than that!” there is some dramatic vilification, in the midst of a season rife with discord both political and Middle Eastern, in the form of J.T. Rogers’ breakneck new play Oslo, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse.  Those peace accords emblazoned with the name of that Norwegian city, evidently, were not limited to a brief and hugely unconvincing handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House Lawn in September 1993, nor were they executed, even remotely, by the jolly Arkansan who oversaw the photo opportunity with the proprietary glee of a P.T. Barnum.

Actually, a complex Scandinavian endeavor, rife with borderline-illegal cooperation between the public and private sectors, was responsible.  Mr. Rogers, to correct the record, has condensed the nine months of fascinating and strikingly original diplomacy that made at least a semblance of peace in the Middle East for seven glorious years into a three-hour, three-act wonder that never seems overburdened or too cute for its own good.  It’s part comedy of errors, part history lesson, and so far is that atmospheric combination from disjointed that the only places where it falters come when it ventures too far into one or the other.

To begin with – Oslo, directed by the LCT’s patron saint, Bartlett Sher, is near-impossible to summarize.  If I may quote liberally from the foot-long insert I received with my Playbill – Terje Rod-Larsen (the phenomenal Jefferson Mays) is a think-tank president married to Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle, also excellent), a Norwegian Foreign Ministry official.  Out of what seems, partly, to be a genuine feeling for the people of the region, and partly out of the desire to impose order onto a chaotic world and then take credit for having invented order that is so distinctly Scandinavian, the two initiate a series of clandestine meetings between PLO Finance Minister Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi, deeply felt) and a delegation of Israeli professors from the University of Haifa, that eventually lead to extended talks between the PLO and Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Uri Savir (Michael Aronov).  Throughout, those at the top in the Norwegian, Israeli, and Palestinian governments are relegated to strictly need-to-know status.  Rod-Larsen, after all, is trying to impose a policy of personality, of gradualism, onto Middle Eastern diplomacy.  Naturally, the Americans can’t be involved.

The little winks and fourth-wall breaks that come throughout nod to how impossible to follow the whole thing is, but really Rogers’ portrayal is so masterfully done I was never once confused.  The strongest scenes in the piece come in the negotiation sessions between Qurie and Savir, one a strong-willed populist, the other a bespoke-suit-wearing playboy – they have incredible literary personality besides keeping you on the edge of your seat.  You get the sense of a real window into a history-making process.

But the real stars of the proceedings are Rod-Larsen and Juul, played perfectly by Mays and Ehle as teammates in the grandest sense.  In their own, dilettante way, they are trying to do something they know is right – even if their own glory may be an added attraction.  Ehle, sporting a flawless accent and a presence somehow simultaneously steely and maternal, fulfills the promise of the character – beloved by all on both sides because of her ability and willingness to bring people together.  Mays is perfect as the intellectual who thinks – knows – he can do better than the bureaucrats, with all of the well-meaning arrogance that entails.  The actors are just as much of a team – and just as successful, in a different way – as their real-world counterparts.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the surprisingly short-lived Shuffle Along at the conclusion of this thoroughly exemplary play, as we are treated to a laundry list of diplomatic failures and disappointments that followed the accord’s signing in the early ‘90s.  At the end of that musical, the stars and creators of the show-within-the-show make peace with the fact that they will fade into irrelevancy, because their cause and art was righteous.  Climbing the stairs into the audience at the end of Oslo, Rod-Larsen looks up, into the light, and reaches out.  “Look there,” he says, “on the horizon.  A beginning.”  They tried.  And perhaps in this imperfect world, captured in the diamond-perfect gaze of Rogers’ play, that is the best any of us can do.7.15.16

Reflections in the Light blogspot, Lauren Yeager – Don’t let what sounds like a boring premise – the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords – or the three-hour run time scare you away from Oslo the new J.T. Rogers play getting an Off-Broadway run at Lincoln Center.

Despite the fact that it could use a substantial edit (unless your name is Eugene O’Neill or Tracy Letts, your play doesn’t need three acts or two intermissions), this story of how the leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Army ended up shaking hands on the White House lawn is engrossing and entertaining.

Bartlett Sher directs the large ensemble and keeps us from getting confused, even though there is some doubling in the mostly male cast. The truth is there was a huge cast of characters behind the scenes of the historic peace agreement and while President Bill Clinton probably enjoyed getting a lot of the credit, truth is the accords were thanks to a lot of secret meetings and negotiations headed up by a husband and wife in Oslo, Norway.

Mona Juul (an excellent Jennifer Ehle) is a well respected official in the Norwegian foreign ministry and reports to Jan Egland, the deputy foreign minister. She and her husband, Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays), the director of Fafo Institute for the Applied Sciences, realize they might have come up with a way for the two sides to begin talks. It will be tricky – it is illegal for Israeli government officials to meet with members of the PLO and Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith) is vehemently opposed to the idea. But if they can just find a way to get the right people together in an unofficial way, they might get the ball rolling….

Enter Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins), a junior economics professor at the University of Haifa who is able to make initial contact. The negotiations begin with some lower ranking officials at the Borregaard Estate outside of Oslo, where Mona and Terje acts as hosts and the housekeeper and cook (Henny Russell) keeps everyone happy with waffles (Rogers interlaces a lot of humor in the script to balance the complexity of the dialogue).

Soon, negotiations are going so well that the big players are brought in for both sides. Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), the official PLO Liaison at the US talks which are going absolutely nowhere; Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), the PLO’s finance minister; Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), director general of the Foreign Ministry; Yossi Beilin (Adam Dannheisser), deputy foreign minister; and Shimon Peres, foreign minister, hash out the differences between their nations and the steps toward peace. All the negotiations take place behind closed doors, but they break, out in the parlor with Toril’s waffles, they become friends, sharing jokes and telling stories about their families.

Things get tense when Terje oversteps his authority and begins acting as a negotiator, making promises and telling lies to keep the negotiations moving forward, but which in reality, could bring the whole process to a grinding halt.

The action takes us through about nine months and to various locations, all on one set designed by Michael Yeargan with cushioned benches circling the stage area on the floor. An architectural embellishment over the door at the rear where the men venture for their discussions is a reminder of the grand house they are in and of the importance of the negotiations taking place. The parlor room becomes like a family room as the friendships develop even while personalities clash.

The three-hours certainly could be reduced – perhaps by about 45 minutes (especially if that second intermission could be eliminated). While this usually would signify a weak play to me, that is not the case here. All the action and information as written is interesting, well written and directed. There’s simply too much material and as a result people were nodding off and missing a pretty decent play. Take a nap first (or opt for a matinee instead of an 8 pm curtain time) and go. You’ll see the Oslo Accords in a whole new light. 7.20.16

Theatre Reviews Limited, Michele Wilens – If I told you—and I will —the components of the new show at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, my guess is you might not run out to see it. It is three hours long. There are two intermissions. There is no music and no dancing. There are no stars. It’s basically twelve people talking about peace in the Mideast.

And you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed this play.

“Oslo,” written by J.T. Rogers, tells the rather amazing backstory of the accords signed in 1993 by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. Remember the famous handshake in the Rose Garden with a grinning President Clinton between the two lifelong enemies? This play ends there– well, almost. But the three acts are comprised of the machinations that got them there. Did you hear the one about the academic married Norwegian couple who came up with the idea that peace between the Palestinians and Israelis could be brokered if the big guns just got out of the way?

They started with a few intellectuals and lower level folks on each side, hid the negotiations until they were mysteriously leaked, and eventually, (once the hopeful results began emerging) higher-ups were brought in to replace the originals. Not always a happy transition, by the way. Playwright Rogers calls his play “the hidden history behind the public one.”

“Oslo” is pretty much what it sounds like: a lot of heady conversation and human fireworks. But there is also a good deal of humor. And, of course, history. Not only about the finite period during which the play takes place, but that which has kept these factions so far apart and steeped in acrimony. J.T. Rogers has written excellent and timely dialogue, which largely manages to sound like actual dialogue, albeit with the occasional dose of speechifying. (“What is a throne but a stool covered in velvet”? “Once you unleash the personal, the furies come out.” “Desperation is our ally.” “Only a bumbling amateur lies.” “Sometimes we are the pigeons, sometimes we are the statue.”)

Throughout the three hours, we watch perennial enemies come together over jokes, impressions, shared infatuation with the delicacies of a private chef, (“We are fast approaching the hour of the waffles!”) and disgust with the consistently gray weather outside. (It’s a true tragedy we were approached by the Norwegians and not the Californians.”)

There are twelve actors who move on and off the stage in relatively brief scenes, usually carrying their own props. (Rarely more than a table and chair) At first you might think you will need a scorecard to remember exactly who are the Norwegians, the Israelis, and the Palestinians. (Not for lack of help. As each new character enters, they are quickly introduced to us.) But the acting is so superb that eventually you do get to know everyone. Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle are probably the names most familiar to theatregoers. They portray the couple that got this whole process rolling. Michael Aranov has perhaps the showiest role as the higher up Israeli who comes in midway. He is hilarious and unpredictable and ultimately powerful, bringing much needed energy to the theatrical proceedings just when things start to sag a bit.

This is a lovely production, directed by the prolific Bartlett Sher. (His “King and I” just closed at the largest stage in Lincoln Center, and he directed the current Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.”) In “Oslo,” he keeps things moving with little distraction, though he occasionally uses projections to remind us of the endless destruction and carnage the two sides have inflicted on each other.

Let’s face it…it is pretty amazing history. “This flies in the face of 40 years of Israeli policy,” notes one of the participants in the secret negotiations, during which each side spews anger and mistrust. (“You killed our athletes in Munich.” “You murdered our schoolchildren on buses.” “When you recognize the PLO, we will recognize your legitimacy.” “This is not land to give, this is land to give back.”) If you are locked into your political beliefs, “Oslo” likely won’t change your mind, but it is serving a purpose in at least humanizing the people behind all that passion.

There will be some who may not like the ending of the play, in which all the characters come on stage and report on where they are, or were, all these years later. Finally, Jefferson Mays holds the stage alone, as he does in the beginning, addressing the audience in a way I am not sure is entirely necessary. Some of the narration along the way could probably be excised, but it is handled with speed and precision. While this is obviously not a play for everyone, the tickets are going very quickly. Likely, this is due to the loyal subscribers of Lincoln Center, the city’s relatively large and active Jewish population, and the fact that the Mitzi Newhouse is a small venue.

All that being said, these are not easy shows to pull off. They are often criticized for being little more than dramatized history lessons. “Oslo” reminded me somewhat of the last successful political piece on Broadway, “All the Way” with Bryan Cranston as LBJ. That one too followed the progress of some fairly important documents over a compressed period of time, and also featured a very large cast of characters. These are not the kinds of plays that necessarily have long lives or even travel well. “All The Way” was recently made into an HBO movie so that one is preserved. “Oslo” might be a candidate for a similar presentation.

“Oslo” is about real people, though playwright Rogers says the words are largely imagined. Hey, nothing wrong with that. Lin Manuel Miranda read a dense biography of a Founding Father and imagined those guys not only looking different than they do in the textbooks, but rhyming and rapping in between all that debating and dueling. 7.12.16

Huffington Post, Jeremy Gerard – Professional relationships are as disposable as goods on the shelves at Walmart in our culture, and so it is an especially happy occasion to report on the flowering of an artistic pairing, in this case of playwright J.T. Rogers and director Bartlett Sher. Their previous work together produced “Blood and Gifts,” Rogers’ tidal drama, spellbindingly staged by Sher, about the intersection of the personal and the political (or, more accurately, the blurring of any line between them) among an ebbing-and-flowing power mash-up of spies, warlords and U.S. and Soviet functionaries in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s; I wasn’t alone in naming it one of the best plays of 2011.

Now comes the extraordinary “Oslo,” Rogers’ riveting dramatization of another complex political tarantella that unfolded in secret before, in September 1993, stunning the world. That was when Bill Clinton presided at a Rose Garden ceremony in which Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands after signing a historic peace accord.

We may now look back on that scene with bitter nostalgia for the blinding ray of hope that event promised but was destined to renege on. Irony is not, however, Rogers’ métier. His point in “Oslo” is to reveal — carefully, fully and sensitively — the back story of the accords and how a Norwegian couple with approximately zero political capital brought the two intransigent sides together at an ancient castle where, through a series of meetings virtually mined to explode or collapse, they forged an imperfect but tangible peace treaty.

The naively optimistic couple are Terje Rod-Larsen and Mona Juul. He’s an academic who has developed an interpersonal approach to conflict resolution he’s convinced will work in advancing the cause of peace where everything else has failed. She’s a smart, ambitious cog in the office of the foreign ministry. That they are played by the insanely convincing and appealing Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle only makes their determination against all odds, including diplomatic convention and protocol, a key factor in making this nearly three-hour evening pass swiftly.

Terje and Mona manage, through clandestine, coded telephone conversations, to bring together a foursome of Shakespearean ingenuity, intelligence and humor. From the PLO, the finance minister Ahmed Qurie (the elegant Anthony Azizi) and his fevered, slogan-spouting lieutenant Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani, coiled and intense). From the Israelis, determined to protect their plausible deniability over any negotiations with the declared enemy, two economics professors, the earthy, brilliant Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes, as though born to this rich role) and the sedate Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins, all business).

The interconnections among the Norwegians can be a bit dizzying: Mona’s boss, the deputy foreign minister (also played by Jenkins) is married to Terje’s academic colleague (Henny Russell), and the couples are social friends. And as the negotiations surprisingly begin to show movement on both sides as the four negotiators thrust and parry and nurse unexpected friendships, the Israeli professors are replaced by actual government officials (Michael Aronov and Adam Dannheisser) and their Washington-based legal muscle (Joseph Siravo), threatening at first to torpedo the whole enterprise before succumbing, as their predecessors have, to a more human impulse.

This all sounds talk-talky, and it is – which is what makes Sher’s accomplishment with the text so compelling. I was in the critical minority regarding Sher’s Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof,” but he has always shown a willingness to take imaginative leaps that bring an engaging perspective to material – whether with revivals including the musicals “The King and I” and “South Pacific,” and the plays “Golden Boy” and a spectacular, heart-wrenching take on August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” — or new work such as this.

Like Rogers, Sher takes the players in this comedy of terrors at face value, refusing to douse it in cynicism or the certainty of hindsight. We hardly need them to remind us of how soon the hopes of Oslo were dashed. Working with a fitrst-rank group of artists (Michael Yeargan, the simple, suggestive sets; Donald Holder, the detailed lighting plan; Catherine Zuber, the spot-on costumes) Rogers and Sher conspire every bit as persuasively as Terje and Mona to lend these unseen events enduring weight. Like the boy in the tree witnessing Admiral Perry’s meeting with the Japanese in “Pacific Overtures,” we have observed history in the making (and unlike the boy, we have heard it as well). For an all too brief moment, we can look back to that handshake in the Rose Garden and recall how thrilling hope can be. 7.13.16

womanabouttown.com, Alex Cohen – Five years ago, Director Bartlett Sher introduced Norwegian sociologist Terje-Rod  Larsen to playwright J.T. Rogers. Larsen shared a little known backstory of the 1993 Oslo peace accord with the author who, it seems, had long wanted to write about the Israelis and Palestinians. A revealing history describing the secret involvement of Norway, unofficial representatives from both sides and, in particular, his wife, diplomat Mona Juul (then an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry) and himself (at the time director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences) provides the basis for this riveting play. Though Rogers later interviewed the couple in depth, he stayed away from other survivors preferring to put his own stamp on participants.

Like Stephen Sondheim’s song “Someone in a Tree” (Pacific Overtures) or Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen, Rogers embroiders on what he was told, filling in that which couldn’t be observed. He also admittedly sexed up the characters, making them younger, combining and omitting for dramatic purposes. The implausible-but-true facts are, however, front and center with much of what the author deems “crazy” notably accurate.
In the course of three acts (with two intermissions), we’re made to feel like voyeurs, flies on the wall of a volatile narrative peppered with unexpected comedy emerging when historical enemies let their hair down. There are even jokes and sharp parodies of political figures that emerge when historical enemies let their hair down. Partly narrated by smart, level-headed Mona with wry asides to us, the story illuminates a roster of galvanizing players. It’s not necessary to know the accord’s public history, though some knowledge concerning both sides’ contentions would help.
The first act opens and closes on a dinner party at which Terje (Jefferson Mays) and Mona (Jennifer Ehle) intend to inform incipient Norwegian Prime Minister Johan Jorgan Host (T. Ryder Smith) and his wife Marianne Heiberg (Henny Russell) of about 9 months of clandestine meetings they’ve been facilitating between the P.L.O. and Israelis. The initially congenial evening is interrupted by two calls on side by side telephones, one from Israeli Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin (Adam Dannheisser), the other from a P.L.O. representative.
Meeting participants include: fox-like P.L.O. Finance Minister Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi) and unruly Marxist Palestinian, Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani) on one side of the table and wary, economic academics Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes) and Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins) – sent first so as not to involve the actual government on the other. The Israelis are later joined i.e. “upgraded” to tenacious Washington lawyer Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo) and cabinet member Uri Savir (Michael Aronov) who climbs out a Paris hotel window to secretly make his way to meetings, “because as we all know,” Mona dryly comments, “every mid-level Israeli diplomat is a rock star in Norway.”
Nor has Terje and Mona’s relationship been depicted as cardboard background. The sociologist is clearly drawn as wildcard instigator and driving force while his highly esteemed wife navigates diplomacy and keeps him at least in sight of protocol. “Take one more step forward,” she vehemently warns as they observe Qurie and Savir, “and I’ll divorce you.”
Acts Two and Three take us through the machinations/demands of the two factions both of whom risk international sanctions. Precautions are taken, but breached. Though we finally meet Shimon Peres (Daniel Oreskes), Arafat and Rabin never appear. Being aware of the outcome, does nothing to hinder absorption.
Every man is objectively depicted, his work and private selves played with specificity. As 60 years of habitual hatred and mistrust come to fore, remarks are condescending, insults searing, yet passions can turn on a dime.
When Savir describes his time in New York, it’s like watching an infectiously enthusiastic teenager. His parody of “asshole” Henry Kissinger verges on incendiary, yet ends in laughter. Fathers are remembered, daughter’s names shared, lots and lots of Johnny Walker Black imbibed. (The future film company will no doubt be paid for placement.)
Though, as we know, the center didn’t hold, what was attempted was remarkable in its approach, risk, and reward. This is an eminently human saga of uplifting compromise where none seemed the least bit possible. Our obstructive Republican Congress, among others, might learn something.
Ensemble work is superb. Jefferson Mays’ rabbitty alertness and nuanced reaction to setbacks, Michael Aronov’s energy and theatricality and Jennifer Ehle’s preternatural, decidedly feminine equanimity add immeasurably. Angela Pierce is charming as the appreciated cook who, Hassan declares, “is to food what Vladimir Lenin is to land reform.”
Director Barlett Sher creates memorable stage images – allowing all three sections of audience sightline, enhances character with physicality, and paces the mercurial stop/start piece masterfully.
Michael Yeargan’s fluid set works in tandem with evocative Projections by 59Projections and Lighting by Donald Holder- love the snow! 8.5.16

Bob’s Theatre Blog – Playwright J.T. Rogers is certainly not reluctant to take on complicated geopolitical topics. His 2011 play at Lincoln Center Theater, “Blood and Gifts,” was about American policy in Afghanistan. Now he is back at the Mitzi E. Newhouse with “Oslo,” an ambitious look at the story behind the secret negotiations that led to the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993. Happily, several people associated with that production have also returned: director Bartlett Sher, set designer Michael Yeargan, costume designer Catherine Zuber and actors Jefferson Mays and Michael Aronov. The story revolves around Terje Red-Larsen (Mays), director of a Norwegian think tank devoted to applied social sciences, and his wife Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, who come up with the idea of initiating and facilitating secret “back door” talks between two representatives of the PLO and a pair of economics professors from Haifa who, officially at least, have no ties with the Israeli government. Larsen and Juul have to win over the Norwegian foreign minister (T. Ryder Smith) and his deputy (Daniel Jenkins) to their risky efforts. The initial meetings between the PLO officials (Anthony Aziz and Dariush Kashani) and the Israelis (Daniel Oreskes and, doubling roles, Jenkins) are prickly, but they soon begin to make progress, lending support to Larsen’s theory that private, personal, incremental negotiations might succeed where public, impersonal, comprehensive talks have failed. The Israeli professors are eventually joined by and then supplanted by Uri Savir (Aronov,) Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo), an attorney. We also meet the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Bellin (Adam Dannheiser) and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres (Oreskes, also doubling). There are several other minor characters for a total cast of 14 actors in 21 roles. There are many complications and obstacles along the way. A play with three acts is a rarity today. The first act is intricately structured while the second act is more straightforward. The final act loses some steam in summarizing many of the events that have occurred since 1993. The cast is consistently strong, the simple but attractive set is enhanced by unobtrusive projections (by 59 Productions), the costumes are excellent and the direction is smooth. Be prepared to concentrate on a complex narrative for three hours. I found the end result more admirable than enjoyable. Perhaps it will be trimmed a bit before it opens. I kept thinking that it would make a fine miniseries. 6.28.16

Hi!Drama blog, Eva Heinmann -The famous Oslo Peace Accord of 1993 was the brain child of Terje Rod-Larson (Jefferson Mays) Director of the Fafo institute where they conduct Social research* and Terje’s wife, Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle) an official in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs*. Johan Jørgen Holst, (T. Ryder Smith) Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, was kept in the dark until wheels were put in motion by Larson and his wife. Johan’s wife, Marianne Heiberg (Henny Russell) among the prime Middle East policy experts, studying ethnical conflicts  and peace-keeping was also kept out of the loop.
Larson had this crazy idea that if you could just leave the politicians out of it and just have a Palestinian and Israeli meet on neutral ground without any interference from America or the powers that be.
It started with Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi) who had followed Yasser Arafat to Tunis after the PLO was forced to leave Lebanon. Qurie rose to prominence and was elected to the Fatah Central Committee, the highest decision-making body of the Palestinian organization and political party.
Yossi Beilin, (Adam Dannheisser) an Israeli statesman and scholar knew that no one in the government could legally talk to a Palestinian so he suggested University of Haifa Professor: Yair Hirschfield (Daniel Oreskes). Soon Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani) with strong Communist leaning and another Haifa Professor, Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins) were brought in to hammer out an agreement.
Jan Egeland (Daniel Jenkins) was State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and eventually had to be told of the progress they were having and to speed things along by getting more officials involved but still keeping it extremely hush hush.
Finally it became official when Uri Savir (Michael Aronov) general manager of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took over from the Professors.
This was an engrossing political thriller with the main objective to not let those snoopy ruin everything politicians spoil the delicate balance of the legitimate grievances on both sides.
And yes this was done so expertly that I who am an avid Zionist and resented giving up land to these people who wanted us driven into the sea and eradicated could sympathize and even like the PLO representatives. That is because they were humanized over delicious waffles.
The acting was superb as they embodied real people with high stakes and constant danger as both sides outside the peace negotiations were still escalating violence against each other.
It is amazing that Jefferson Mays who came to prominence in the solo show “I Am My Own Wife”and was most recently playing several murdered relatives in “Gentleman’s Guide To Murder” should be this driven yet calm eye in the hurricane-of-hatred man trying to appease all the different egos. Daniel Oreskes who usually plays the heavy got the light-hearted role of a rumpled professor who is in way over his head but manages to come to terms with an enemy played with remarkable sensitivity by Anthony Azizi, who had much to lose. Joining them were
Dariush Kashani, who had to cool down his hot-headed socialist political leanings. Daniel Jenkins, shined in several diverse roles as did T. Ryder Smith and Henny Russell who played caretakers and government officials. The luminous Jennifer Ehle had to keep her husband Larson and her government bosses all happy and she did it so convincingly that she could be a diplomat in real life. Michael Aronov showed the humanity under the no nonsense take charge of the Peace process at others emotional expense.
I have never seen history come alive or be so vital as written by J.T. Rogers and directed by Bartlett Sher, who isn’t just a classic Musical Theatre director. This was fraught with drama and human emotions of wanting to be appreciated for all the hard work but having to let go and look at the bigger picture which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans for the people negotiating but for the final outcome of peace.
This is moving to THE Beaumont in March so catch it now while it is affordable and in the intimate surroundings of the Mitzi Newhouse.
HAPPY FACE!!!!!!!!!!!

The Slotkin Letter, Lynn Slotkin –  A stunning, gut wrenching play about the high stakes at work in the secret negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians when they met in Oslo to talk about peace.
The Story. The unimaginable happened in the White House Rose Garden on September 13, 1993. President Bill Clinton presided over the signing of the first-ever peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and brought Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel and Yasir Arafat, the Chairman of the PLO together to shake hands on the deal. Astonishing.

The back story of how this came to be is the stuff of drama.

We are in Oslo Norway and other locations around the world. The story takes place between April 1992 and September 1993.

Terje Rød-Larsen and his wife Mona Juul were Norwegian diplomats in Oslo at the time. Rød-Larsen had a theory about negotiations and how to bring even the most combative of opponents together to agree on a solution to a problem. His theory was to make the negotiations personal; to solve one problem at a time and then move to the next. His idea was to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together in Oslo, to talk about peace. In this case the Palestinians meant the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The talks would be secret. Indeed it was illegal for an Israeli to deal directly with the PLO. Both Rød-Larsen and his wife had various diplomatic contacts who could make this meeting happen. There were several meetings in fact and they are now known as the Oslo Accords. Rabin and Arafat were not directly involved in those meetings, although they were in constant contact with their various representatives who were.

At first the representatives from Israel seemed perhaps low-level but still committed and eager to work this out. When negotiations got further ahead more senior representatives took over. The main negotiators were Uri Savir (Michael Aronov) for the Israelis and Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi) for the Palestinians. They arrived with their ‘baggage’ and their attitudes. Ahmed Qurie from the Palestinian side rails at Uri Savir from the Israelis side about what they have done to his people, killing children and innocent citizens, and Savir comes back with his list of horrors regarding the Palestinians’ side

There were snags along the way. Negotiations stalled. Rød-Larsen kept his cool and worked feverishly to get things on track. Mona Juul did too. And when all was said and done there was that astonishing handshake in the Rose Garden of the White House. We all know the story doesn’t end there.

The Production. Bartlett Sher directs this with a sure, delicate hand. Whether he’s directing straight plays: (Blood and Gifts; Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Golden Boy, Awake and Sing!) or musicals: (South Pacific, The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof, The Light in the Piazza, The Bridges of Madison County just for starters, or the opera Two Boys) he puts his stamp on each and more often than not the result is definitive. His standard is the one you judge all other productions.

There is such delicacy in his directorial touch even when the conversation is heated. You think each side might come to blows, but they hold back. (When Ahmed Qurie and Uri Savir railed at each other regarding their atrocities, it made me limp in my seat. “It’s hopeless” I thought. But both sides were there because they wanted to get past the ‘hopelessness’ and move forward.)

The body language becomes personal as the negotiations go on and each side sees that the other wants the same thing, but also to be true to their convictions on what they must gain. . So when characters are leaving the scene, a character from the Israeli side might put a delicate hand on the back of a Palestinian character, in friendship. It’s that subtlety that has one looking and wondering: how do you decide how close a character passes another if they are on different sides; as they get to know each other, the body language becomes collegial rather than wary. That’s the doing of Bartlett Sher (“Sher brilliance?”). He just makes us look harder and consider with more attention.

With Oslo everything about it is exquisite. Michael Yeargan has created a spare, beautiful set. There is a gleaming table of rich wood and two chairs suggesting the elegant surroundings. A door is upstage, behind which the negotiations take place. We never see them. What we see is the give and take, the banter, the effort to know the other side when the two sides are not behind closed doors.

Rød-Larsen suggested that there be ‘down time’ in which the two sides would take a break and enjoy a drink or a nosh. Both sides unanimously agree that the food provided is delicious and each wants to take the woman who cooked it back home with them. Rød-Larsen I believe suggests that both sides tell a joke. That breaks the ice.

Jefferson Mays plays Terje Rød-Larsen as a fastidious, courtly, gracious man. If you look up ‘fastidious’ in the dictionary I’m sure you’ll find a picture of Jefferson Mays next to the definition. Much has been written about his sartorial splendour off stage. On stage clothes look perfect on him. He assumes a sphinx-like smile, pleasant, inviting, but hiding a mind that is always thinking. You can see the character thinking by watching Jefferson Mays’ eyes. I have to say that Mays does not look like a real person—he’s too perfect. The face beams. His cheeks glow. His eyes glisten. He looks more beautiful than handsome. Commenting on a person’s looks really is not kosher but with this guy, you (I?) can’t help it. And he’s a wonderful actor as was scene when he played eight different characters in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and earlier in I Am My Own Wife he played a peasant woman. In Blood and Gifts he was again fastidious and always compelling.

At one point Terje Rød-Larsen has to lie to his wife Mona Juul because the negotiations are at a critical point and he is determined that nothing will get in the way. Mays hesitates just a touch, we hold our breaths, and he tells the lie. Does Mona Juul believe it? As played by Jennifer Ehle, who also has a sphinx-like smile and easy grace, you do believe she believes it. Or she just might be hiding any doubt. I can believe that Ehle is that smart, diplomatic, compassionate kind of person who gets things done in the most graceful way. She is a perfect match for Mays.

As Ahmed Qurie (on the Palestinian side), Anthony Azizi is tempered for the most part, watchful, and wary. He is a perfect match for Michael Aronov (on the Israeli side) who plays Uri Savir. Aronov is brash, swaggers, hands on hips, trying to take control. It’s easy to see how he can rub people the wrong way, but he is also hugely compelling. Both men soften when they realize their daughters share the same name.

I haven’t heard a silence in a theatre for such a challenging play in a long time, but my audience of mainly seniors and me and Arlene and Allan Alda over there, sat, holding our breaths in total silence, gripped by this brilliant play and equally brilliant production.

Comment. When Bartlett Sher was directing J.T. Rogers previous play, Blood and Gifts, about America’s involvement in Afghanistan, Sher invited Rød-Larsen to see it. Sher knew Rød-Larsen and his wife, Mona Juul because their daughters went to the same school. Sher introduced J.T. Rogers to Terje Rød-Larsen. Rød-Larsen talked of his and his wife’s involvement in the Oslo Accords. This got Mr. Rogers interested in the subject. Research followed. Oslo is the result.

J.T. Rogers’ play is astonishing in that it shows both sides of this age old hatred. He has shown the minutiae of what goes into delicate negotiations—something like untangling a spider web. While Rogers says that the details of the Oslo Accords is documented he is clear to say in his program note that this is his version of things. And while we know what happened from what we have read in the papers and what happened after that handshake, Rogers has written a gripping play that twists our guts and emotions and presents it as a political thriller. Will the two sides come back to the table after negotiations break down? Will anger prevail over good will or vice versa? He writes the language of diplomacy as clearly and compellingly as he writes the language of anger and hurt and distrust. He takes you so deeply inside the story you almost forget how it turns out and you are gripped every step of the way.

As always happens to me when I see theatre that has touched me deeply and shaken me and my assumptions, I got weepy. I cried all the way to the subway. That happens a lot after seeing such stunning theatre, and it’s usually at Lincoln Center Theater. I’m going to ask them to supply me with Kleenex the next time.
NOTE: The whole run for Oslo at the Mitzi E. Newhouse theatre was sold out. And while I saw this in July and it closes today—Aug. 28, I’m still writing about it, albeit late, because it’s important and will be returning to Lincoln Center Theater, this April, this time at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

Critics At Large, Steve Vineberg – The Crooked Timber of Humanity: J.T. Rogers’s Oslo. True political theatre – in which issues are dramatized rather than just personified by characters embodying contrasting views and the text explores a political subject rather than proselytizing – doesn’t come naturally to American playwrights. We tend to look to the Brits for this kind of writing, which is why J.T. Rogers’s Oslo, which recently completed a run in the intimate Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, in a gripping and poignant production staged with masterly resourcefulness by Bartlett Sher, feels like a particular triumph. (The play will transfer to Lincoln Center’s large space, the Vivian Beaumont, in the spring; the Beaumont is a Broadway house, so the play will be eligible for Tony Award nominations next season.) Rogers’s Rwanda play, The Overwhelming, is modest but effective, at least on the page (I haven’t seen it performed); its virtue lies in its restraint, its refusal to fall into melodrama, and to that end he places an American family transplanted to Rwanda in the center of the play and filters the horrors of the genocide through their response to it. Rogers has written two plays about Afghanistan; the one I’ve seen, Blood and Gifts, which Sher also directed at the Newhouse, is set between 1981 and 1991, and its historical focus is part of what makes it so unusual and intriguing. Rogers is clearly interested in boiling-point locations, but he’s a humanist, not a polemicist, and I think he keeps getting better as a playwright.

Oslo, about the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993, is a big work: a three-hour, three-act play with a cast of twenty-one, here played by fourteen actors, that occasionally draws on a cinematic use of space (Michael Yeargan designed the fluid unit set) to cross enormous geographical distances. Of the three I’m familiar with, it’s certainly Rogers’s most ambitious play, but once again he finds an unconventional path to his subject matter. Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for signing the accord, but in Oslo Rabin and Arafat are offstage presences – as indeed they were until the very last stage of the “back-channel” talks that moved Palestine and Israel to a point of real communication while the U.S.-sponsored Middle East talks, which took place on the world stage, were hopelessly stalled. (Peres is a character in the play, but he doesn’t enter the proceedings until halfway through act three.) Rogers employs Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, as the narrator; she and her husband Terje Rød-Larses (Jefferson Mays), the director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences, are the unexpected hosts who bring PLO officials and Israelis together at an estate outside Oslo on three separate occasions to pave the way for the seven-hour telephone negotiations in Stockholm in September of 1993. These have to be conducted by phone, with Terje as the intermediary, because Israeli law forbids Rabin or Foreign Minister Peres (Daniel Oreskes) or Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin (Adam Danheisser) to have contact with Arafat or any member of the PLO. The entire process is a miracle of diplomatic finesse – of indirection, of shifting screens. Juul and Larsen aren’t the protagonists of the story; they’re the catalysts, whose graciousness and generosity (and the marvelous food they provide, courtesy of the housekeeper at the Borregaard estate, played by Henny Russell) provide an environment in which an atmosphere of mutual respect and openness can flourish. Their inclusion in the play adds an extra layer of irony and wonder.

Each of the acts has a distinct shape and color. Act one is structured as a flashback, with, as its frame, the moment when Terje and Mona let the new Foreign Minister, Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith), in on the secret that they’ve been fielding phone calls from both the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is the next step from the unofficial talks Mona’s boss, Jan Egeland, the new Deputy Foreign Minister (Daniel Jenkins), endorsed, between the PLO Finance Minister, Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi), known as Abu Ala, and the PLO liaison with the Palestinian delegation at the U.S.-sponsored talks, Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), on the one hand and a pair of University of Haifa economists (played by Orekes and Jenkins) on the other. The first act is about the first two rounds of talks – about the obstacles that have to be vaulted over in order to facilitate a conversation between a pair of PLO officials and a pair of Israelis while, back in the Middle East, hostilities are escalating. But the talks can’t turn into real negotiations until Beilin, who sent the Israeli economists to Oslo without informing Rabin, “upgrades,” i.e., permits an Israeli politician and not just a couple of political science professors to haggle with Abu Ala and Asfour. That’s what happens in act two. In order to keep Abu Ala, who is really the key Palestinian figure in the talks, from walking away, Terje has to resort to subterfuge: he informs Abu Ala that Beilin is prepared to upgrade before he actually is. (Asfour is vociferous but his contributions are less significant and more predictable. His usual mode of communication is a combination of doctrinaire Marxist rhetoric and a tendency to shout himself hoarse; Rogers and Kashani turn the first into a good running gag.) The way in which Holst and his wife Marianne Heiberg (Russell) learn what’s going on involves some manipulation of the truth as well: the Larsens invite them for dinner at a time when they know they will be receiving phone calls from Israel and Palestine and then pretend they had no idea they’d be calling; they claim there must have been a mix-up due to the time zones. So they expose the situation to Holst but make it look like an accident. Holst storms out of the dinner when he finds out what Terje has been up to, but he’s received the information he needed to when he needed to receive it.

The protagonists of the play are Abu Ala and Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), the Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who enters the talks in the second act. At this point the audience, too, is admitted to the negotiations, marking a major dramatic shift in the text. Rogers takes as his epigraph a quotation from Kant, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made,” and these two men, passionate patriots, flamboyant showmen, both earthy and witty and arrogant, face off and, improbably but convincingly, become friends. At the top of the play Mona tells us that her and Terje’s point of view about the Middle East was altered forever when, on a visit to Israel, they saw a confrontation between an Israeli and a Palestinian soldier, both teenagers, a moment that, in her telling of it, recalls the famous scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the German youth and the French youth meet in the trench. What happens in the course of Oslo between Savir and Abu Ala builds on Mona’s story (and, implicitly, on that quintessential moment in Remarque’s novel and Lewis Milestone’s 1930 movie of it). Playing these crooked timbers of humanity, Azizi and Aronov give immense, robust, extremely physical performances as characters Terje describes as two bulls in a china shop. I was familiar with Azizi mostly through the TV shows I’ve seen him on (like Commander in Chief); I knew Aronov’s work better. This is the third time he’s collaborated with Bartlett Sher; he was Siggie, the boxer hero’s cab-driving brother-in-law, in Sher’s great production of Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy and Gromov the KGB man in Blood and Gifts.

When Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo), a retired Israeli army officer who is now a Washington lawyer, joins the negotiations in round three, they become thornier. He arrives, all business, presenting himself as the voice of Yitzhak Rabin, ousts the two economics professors, and moves down a list of two hundred questions for the Palestinians. (Rogers doesn’t deal with the rivalry between Rabin and Peres, but when Uri tells Singer, “Let us be clear, Joel: you are here for Itzak, I am here for Shimon,” we get the picture.) Act three, which tells the story of how the “back-channel” discussions became the real peace talks, is as distinct from either of the previous acts as they are from each other. Emotionally this is the breakthrough act; it covers not only the final movement toward the historic moment when the two sides come together, but also, in a Brechtian coda, the tragic aftermath – Rabin’s assassination, the recommenced hostilities between Israel and Palestine.

Mays and Ehle give supremely controlled performances of such subtly that, especially next to Aronov and Azizi, their skillfulness is easy to overlook. Mays is famous for his theatricality in plays like I Am My Own Wife and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, but here he plays a man who has to accept his role as the invisible man in the peace accords and so the point of his performance must be its understatement. The relationship of the two central negotiators to Terje is fascinating: their movement from adversaries to peace collaborators (and finally friends), bizarrely, shifts their anger from each other to him, even though it’s he who has made the collaboration possible. It doesn’t happen with Mona, because both Uri and Abu Ala are old-world gentlemen whose attitude toward women is chivalrous; she benefits from the fact that they’re too sexist to treat her the same way they treat her husband.

The entire ensemble, which also includes Christopher McHale, Jeb Kreager and Angela Pierce, performs admirably, and the double casting is sometimes wizardly. (As Jan Egeland and Ron Pundak, the junior economist, Daniel Jenkins seems to be two completely different actors, and I didn’t realize that Russell played Marianne Heiberg as well as Toril Grandal until I checked my program.) The only actor on the stage who can’t pull off the switch is Daniel Oreskes, but that’s because, square and bearish, he’s such a recognizable physical specimen. The consistency of the acting is a trademark of Sher’s large-scale shows; God knows it was true of Golden Boy. There he and his actors served a classic American text that had fallen into obscurity; here they bring a wonderful new play to life. 8.22.16

t2online, Suzanna Bowling – For close to three hours we watch as Israel and the PLO struggle to form some kind of truce that will lead to less blood shed. In the end as the title character offers hope, the audience is left with feeling that peace will come when pigs fly. J. T. Rogers semi autobiographical Oslo is well directed by Lincoln Center favorite Bartlett Sher who engages the space. 15 actors tell the story of the  historic turning point in Arab-Israeli relations. Hammered out in complete secrecy in Oslo, Norway, the Oslo Accord forced both sides to come to terms with each other’s existence. Oslo sketched out a peace process with a two-phase timetable. During a five-year interim period, Oslo envisioned a series of step-by-step measures to build trust and partnership. Palestinians would police the territories they controlled, cooperate with Israel in the fight against terrorism and amend those sections of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) charter that called for Israel’s destruction. Israel would withdraw almost entirely from Gaza and in stages from parts of the West Bank. An elected Palestinian Authority would take over governance of the territories from which Israel withdrew. After this five-year interim period, negotiators then would determine a final peace agreement to resolve the thorniest issues.

The Oslo Accords were orchestrated by Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle) and her husband Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mayes). Larsen uses his wife and puts her career and her intregety in jeopardy as he lies from the very beginning.

From the start this plan was brought with internal problems. First it’s against Israeli law for any official to meet with the PLO, so two Palestinians, Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi) and Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani), originally meet with two professors from the University of Haifa, Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes) and Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins). We watch how these two sides form a bond.

Wanting to deal with someone higher up official from the foreign ministry of Israel Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), enters the picture. Azizi and Aronov are well-matched and more gets accomplished. Finally after Israeli lawyer (Joseph Siravo) gets involved, Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres (Oreskes) enters the negotiations.

Other characters include a Norwegian housekeeper (Henny Russell) whose waffles are revered and Juul’s boss, Norway’s Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith). Jennifer Ehle gives a wonderfully understated performance while Jefferson Mays allows us to the see the flaws in men’s characters.

In the end the PLO’s almost derailed the truce by changing it last minuets as the American’s butted in. In 2000 the Oslo peace process broke down fas the Israelis and the Palestinians made a strategic choice to return to violence, but it happened almost immediately after the Oslo agreement was signed. The Jewish fanatic who assassinated Rabin in 1995 derailing the peace. In 1996 the rightwing Likud returned to power under the leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu. He made no effort to conceal his deep antagonism for Oslo, denouncing it as incompatible with Israel’s right to security and with the historic right of the Jewish people to the whole land of Israel.

How can there be peace when neither side is willing to compromise? 7.24.16