Sunday, June 26, 2016

Oslo ***

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. I kept thinking that it would make a fine miniseries. Running time: 3 hours, including intermission.

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