Whether or not Oslo is your kind of play depends in large part on your enjoyment of the drama of diplomacy and the language of complex interpersonal communication. The piece by J.T. Rogers is based on the true events that led up to the Oslo Peace Accords: the extraordinary peace deal between The PLO and Israel signed into being on September 13, 1993. The little-known backstory — particularly the delicate and perhaps heroic involvement of the Norwegians in the series of intricate and touchy conversations between lifelong enemies — will hold a genuine fascination for some. For others, the intervening 23 years of failure and violence will overshadow the struggle reproduced on stage. Yes, Oslo portrays an incredible opportunity, but one that could not be held together long with cleverness, waffles and Johnny Walker Black.
Purely as an entertainment, Oslo has a lot to offer. Though it clocks in close to 3 hours, it never stops moving. There is a surprising amount of action in what could have been an overly-talky script. History has been condensed and characters melded for ease of understanding without great loss of accuracy. The crackling dialogue flecked with humor is interspersed with clarifying remarks made directly to the audience. Positions are dealt with even-handedly, delivering the clearest picture possible of what’s at stake for all parties involved.
The vast cast under the seasoned hand of Bartlett Sher is first rate. While I did not buy his closing remarks about the lasting impact of the proceedings, the always excellent Jefferson Mays as Terje Rød-Larsen makes an eager and human guide. His noble and gifted wife, Mona Juul, is played by Jennifer Ehle with integrity and warmth that radiates to the exit doors. Henny Russell in multiple roles adds charm and laughs by turns. But it is Uri Savir the Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry as portrayed by Michael Aronov who electrifies the space and keeps us rooting for something positive to emerge from the flutter of words. Designer Michael Yeargan provides simple furniture supplemented with projections by 59 Productions which makes moving through locations quick and easy to follow. Catherine Zuber’s costumes add “schlub”, utility and class in all the right places.
The short run currently at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse through August 28 (http://www.lct.org/shows/Oslo/) is sold out. However it’s a good bet that lovers of mildly-fictionalized history and political intrigue will assure Oslo is repeated from time to time for at least as long as the Mideast face-off persists.