Review: OSLO

by Lynn on February 16, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the CAA Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by J.T. Rogers

Directed by Joel Greenberg

Set and costumes by Ken MacKenzie

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Projections by Cameron Davis

Cast: Jonas Chernick

Patrick Galligan

Amitai Kedar

Omar Alex Khan

Mark McGrinder

Marla McLean

Sarah Orenstein

Jordan Pettle

Alex Poch-Goldin

Geoffrey Pounsett

Sanjay Talwar

Blair Williams

Anders Yates

A gripping play and production as two mortal enemies, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, argue towards peace and friendship.

The Story. Oslo was written by J.T Rogers in 2017. Rogers was invited by director Bartlett Sher, to meet a Norwegian, Terje Rød-Larson who had been a United Nations special envoy, focusing on Lebanon, and as a negotiator in the Middle East.

Larson told Rogers that in 1992 Larson and his wife Mona Jool were heavily involved in organizing secret talks in Oslo, Norway between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) with the aim to negotiating peace and end the bloodshed. This had to be secret because it was forbidden for the government of Israel to negotiate directly with the PLO.

With that J.T Rogers knew he had a play. (And Bartlett Sher directed it at Lincoln Center Theater).

And that’s what Oslo is, it’s about the baby-steps in the negotiations, the intense secrecy, the volatility of the involved parties and quite often the gut-wrenching details that were needed to mutually agree on how to achieve peace.

The Production. Director Joel Greenberg has created a stylish, sleek production with some of our finest actors.  Ken MacKenzie has designed an off white set of the secret location of the talks. Large French doors up at the back lead to the negotiating room. The furniture is simple and off white. An ornate table and some chairs are there and later two sofas that face each other are brought on. The two sides relax in the room we are looking at. They are served food they both find delicious. They also each want to take home the lovely woman who cooks it for them. They drink, they tell jokes and tell each other of their families, wrangle. And they listen.   It’s a place where they can see their similarities.

Greenberg with his cast has captured the fraught atmosphere, its lightness as well and how delicate that balance is. The cast is superb. Blair Williams plays Terje Rød-Larson with a veneer of charm and a keen brain for negotiating and forming a new way of conducting the talks. He is surprised and delighted when the talks go on for hours behind those closed doors. To suggest the passage of time, there is a wonderful projection on the back wall of ribbons of cigarette smoke floating up. Everybody seemed to smoke back then.

Marla McLean plays Mona Juul, an official in the Foreign Ministry, and Larson’s wife.

McLean beautifully realizes Mona Juul’s nimble mind for politics and these negotiations and the fierceness with which she demands integrity from her husband. Is anything more formidable than the diminutive McLean looking up at the taller Williams as Larson, and saying in a hard, firm voice that he cannot lie about what is going on? I don’t think so.

Sanjay Talwar as Ahmed Qurie on the Palestinian side is courtly and illuminates a dignified man who knows the importance of these talks.  His Israeli counterpart is Uri Savir played by Jonas Chernick as cocky, brash with the graceful body language of a boxer.

Oslo is bracing, gripping theatre about the desperate search for peace between two mortal enemies.

I recommend anyone who loves a fine play and dandy production to see it.

Comment. Is Oslo a history play or a political thriller?  It’s tricky when a play deals in a historical event.  The playwright decides what facts and information to put in or leave out. I think the last place you go for historical fact is the theatre (hello Hamilton). And yet I do think it’s a historical play as well as a thriller.

While we remember that hand shake in the Rose Garden of the White House in Bill Clinton’s day between Israeli Prime Minister Yzthak Rabin and Chairman Yasser Arafat, of the PLO, Oslo examines how the people working in the background got their sides to that handshake.

The theatre will take a historical event and create the world of that event, the background, players and how the event came about. I think that’s what J.T Rogers does here.

It’s a fascinating look at two mortal enemies—Israel and the PLO–who have been fighting each other for more than 50 years and realize they can’t continue killing each other.  Neither is about to just cave with demands but they will negotiate in good faith until they can’t because of something said or suggested.

T. Rogers has captured the delicate dance between the Norweigians, the Israeli’s and the PLO to keep the negotiations secret, but also move them forward. And because we know how it all ends, it’s heartbreaking.

David Mirvish presents a Studio 180 production.

Opened: Feb. 14, 2019.

Closes: March 3, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx.


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