Lincoln Center’s production of Oslo by J. T. Rogers, directed by Barlett Sher and located at the Vivian Beaumont Theater recently won a much-deserved Tony Award for Best Play. In the wake of the major win, the production announced an extended run, an upcoming L.A. production, and a movie adaptation. The play explores the Oslo accords, a secret diplomatic agreement made in 1993 made between Israel and Palestine, and the Norwegian couple that made it all possible.
Most productions at the Vivian Beaumont are large-scale revival musical, like Sher’s recent The King and I and South Pacific. But this time it an experimental, stripped down play that crosses years, countries, and seemingly never-ending rounds of secret negotiations and meetings. Overall, the experience is not a lush musical, but an intimate play where the audience feels like political insiders watching history being made.
Although the history of the Oslo accords in incredibly complicated, somehow both the playwright (Rogers) and the director (Sher) manage to make the story completely and utterly understandable. The story bounces between Norway, Israel, Palestine, England, and America, and includes several groups of diplomats and politicians (the Norwegians, the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Americans).
At the center of the story is a Norwegian couple, Terje Rod-Larsen (Jerfferson Mays) and Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), who undertakes the task of trying to arrange secret meetings between feuding nation so they can forge a peace agreement. Both Mays and Ehle received Tony nominations for their portrayals, which were both showed how ruthlessly passionate both people were to achieve their mission of political peace. In addition to their strong performances, Michael Aronov as Israeli political representative Uri Savir is charismatic and hilarious, and even earned the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play.
The show has an extremely minimal design aesthetic, with sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, Lights by Donald Holder, and Projections by 59 Productions. The use of projections in this production is significant, as this newer art form finds its place on the Broadway stage. Here the projections help to diversify the set, which was an otherwise neutral wall with fancy moldings, a chandelier, and some massive gilded doors. The projections also helped to state the location and date of each scene, which helped guide the audience through the potentially confusing storyline.
It is certainly an achievement that the play was so easily understandable, that the characters were clearly differentiated, and the locations delineated. Often plays about historical political events are complex, confusion, and boring, but Oslo is captivating and comprehensible. The play runs three hours–which may be a tad too long–but it is easily one of the most entertaining political plays of modern theater.
Most importantly, Oslo is not only political but it is a relevant and poignant story about politicians reaching across the aisles, understanding, tolerating, and respecting, religious differences, and working toward international global peace. Oslo is worth seeing for so many reasons: go to learn a little history, to be thoroughly captivated, and feel a little hope about the future of political and diplomatic international relations.