Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Oslo


A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Oslo Peace Accords
By Lauren Yarger
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.

Oslo plays through Aug. 28 at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, 150 West 65th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesdays and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.  Tickets $107: lct.org/shows/Oslo866-811-4111

Additional Credits:
Lighting Design by Donald Holder, Sound Design by Peter John Still, Projection Design by 59 Productions.

Full cast:
Jennifer Ehle…. Mona Juul 
Jefferson Mays…. Terje Rød-Larsen
Michael Aronov…. Uri Savir
Anthony Azizi…. Ahmed Querie (Abua Ala)
Adam Dannheisser…. Yossi Berlin
Daniel Jenkins…. Jan Egelnd
Dariush Kashani…. Hassan Asfour
Jeb Kreager…. Trond Gundersen, German husband
Christopher McHale…. Thor Bjornevog, German diplomat
Daniel Oreskes…. Shimon Peres, Yair Hirschfeld
Angela Pierce…. German wife
Henny Russell…. Toril Grandal, Marianne Heiberg, Swedish hostess
Joseph Siravo…. Joel Singer
T. Ryder Smith…. Johan Jorgen Holst, Finn Grandal

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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