Oslo Review: The Secret Story of Middle East Peace

“Oslo,” a fascinating play about the surprising story behind the first peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians, arrives at Lincoln Center at a time when we can use something hopeful amid the horror and chaos of the last few weeks.

According to the play, a little-known Norwegian couple instigated and pushed along the secret negotiations between the two warring sides that led to the famous moment when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands at the White House in 1993.

The versatile Jefferson Mays (“I Am My Own Wife,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”) portrays sociologist Terje Rod-Larsen; Jennifer Ehl (The Coast of Utopia) is his wife Mona Juul, an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, who serves as narrator. As Mona explains, the couple was working in the Middle East when they came upon a confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in a back alley in Gaza:

“Two boys facing each other, one in uniform, one in jeans, weapons in hand, hate flowing between them. But their faces—and we both see this—their faces are exactly the same. The same fear. The same desperate desire to be anywhere but here. To not be doing this, to this other boy. And there, in that moment, for us, it began.”

They used their connections and their convictions to forge a secret “back channel,” at the same time that official negotiations in Washington D.C. were going on with no progress. The Norwegian couple relied on their tenacity and Rod-Larsen’s model for negotiating between implacable enemies, which called for focusing on one issue at a time, rather than all issues at once, with the aim of building up personal bonds of trust. Within nine months, the back channel became the official channel, and the two sides signed the Oslo Accords.

“Oslo” is written by J.T. Rogers and directed by Bartlett Sher (better known for helming luscious revivals of “South Pacific” and “The King and I.”) They are the same team that put together “Blood and Gifts,” about America’s covert involvement in the Soviet Union’s war with Afghanistan. Like that 2011 drama, “Oslo” has a long running time full of a large cast portraying multiple characters engaged in lots of…talking. Unlike “Blood and Gifts,” the three-hour running time of “Oslo” went by relatively swiftly for me. The creative team invests the principal characters with personalities; we see them get passionate, yell, apologize, share stories about their families, even tell jokes and mock their superiors…slowly, in other words, build those personal bonds, turning from nervous and outraged in each other’s company, to standoffish, to something approaching friendship. It helps that the adversaries are played so credibly – especially by stand-out Anthony Azizi as Ahmed Qurie, the finance minister for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Daniel Oreskes both as a schlemiel of a professor of economics and as stately foreign minister Shimon Peres.

In a program note, the playwright points out that, although “the events in the play all happened,” the words the characters say “are mine,” and the chronology and other details have been altered. This makes one wonder whether the play could have done without some of those details. The issue of Lincoln Center magazine about the play offers a debate as to the significance of the long-ago negotiations, and whether they should be admired as a model or regretted as a mistake – something that the end of the play toys with as well. This makes one wonder whether we leave the theater with a false sense of hope. Still, “Oslo” gives us not only a lucid refresher course on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and provides us entertainment that is both surprisingly funny and suspenseful. It also leaves us with a sense that maybe even the world’s most unsettling situations can someday be settled.



Written by J.T. Rogers; Directed by Bartlett Sher
Sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, lighting by Donald Holder, sound by Peter John Still, Projections by 59 Productions
Cast: Michael Aronov, Anthony Azizi, Adam Dannheisser, Jennifer Ehle, Daniel Jenkins, Dariush Kashani, Jeb Kreager, Jefferson Mays, Christopher McHale, Daniel Oreskes, Henny Russell, Joseph Siravo and T. Ryder Smith
Running time: three hours, including two intermissions.
Tickets: $107
“Oslo” is scheduled to run through August 28, 2016


How Can Theater Help In A Time Of Crisis?

“There is nothing more important than the arts in a time of crisis,” Judith Light says in the video below, asked at the annual Sardi’s luncheon at the American Theatre Critics Association.

Also answering directly — actors Kathleen Chalfant, Michael Cerveris, Marlee Matlin, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, and playwright Doug Wright. Director Bartlett Sher answers without being asked the question.

Golden Boy Reviews Are Mostly Raves: Clifford Odets Boxing Drama Back on Broadway

In the Lincoln Center Theater production of "Golden Boy," Seth Numrich plays Joe Bonaparte, a talented violinist who becomes corrupted by his urge for fame and fortune in the boxing ring.

In the Lincoln Center Theater production of “Golden Boy,” Seth Numrich plays Joe Bonaparte, a talented violinist who becomes corrupted by his urge for fame and fortune in the boxing ring.

Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, first presented on Broadway at the Belasco Theater 75 years ago, is back at the Belasco, for the second-ever Broadway revival about a man who defies his family and a promising career as a classical musician for a shot at immortality in the boxing ring. Directed by Bartlett Sher (South Pacific), the Lincoln Center Theater production features a cast of 19,  including Seth Numrich (War Horse) as Joe Bonaparte, the violinist turned boxer, Tony Shalhoub (Monk, Lend Me A Tenor) as his Italian immigrant father, and Danny Burstein (South Pacific, Follies) as his trainer.

The reviews are largely, but not entirely, raves:

There are several great pleasures in “Golden Boy,”…For all the glories of the Lincoln Center production, there is no disguising that “Golden Boy” is also an old-fashioned melodrama that does not transcend its era the way other works written in (if not necessarily about) the 1930’s have done…This is not to condemn “Golden Boy,” but to provide the key for appreciating it.   It is a work of anthropology, a spoken-word opera,  a vehicle to another era…Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater

Bartlett Sher’s immensely satisfying production roars off the stage of the Belasco Theatre (where the original debuted) with primal force. Sher, whose 2006 revival of Odets’ first hit, “Awake and Sing!,” proved a revelation, once again exhibits acute understanding of this great American playwright, who has been undervalued for far too long. “Golden Boy” is grand and glorious theater. Grade A~Erik Haagensen, Backstage

A superb ensemble cast and inspired design team elevate Bartlett Sher’s 75th anniversary Broadway revival of this Clifford Odets play to ravishing heights…thoughtfully conceived and vividly inhabited ~David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

The point of this Lincoln Center Theater production is the rare opportunity to see a pivotal American period piece staged deeply into the period by Bartlett Sher (“South Pacific”) with a huge, expert cast that only a nonprofit can afford to showcase with such luxurious dedication today on Broadway~Linda Winer, Newsday

…. a dazzling revival…Tony Shalhoub is a stand-out . Great sets by Michael Yeargan that include boxing rings populated by sparring, muscular men and realistic tenement buildings and threadbare offices, costumes by Catherine Zuber that are boxy and masculine while always flattering Strahovski, and dim, moody lighting by Donald Holder all contribute to a gloomy gorgeousness.~Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

…a well-constructed and earthy narrative that depicts a seedy underworld and a violent clash of cultures and competing values – 3 stars – Matt Windman AMNY,

“This production escapes some of the possible pitfalls, but not all of them. The foremost problem is uneven casting.”   Numrich “comes across so refined that you can never be entirely sure what Joe is escaping from” and the set is an unsatisfying  “combination of realism and fantasy that evince the best qualities of neither.” Matthew Murray, Talkin’ Broadway

Plenty of punches are thrown in the forceful new revival of Clifford Odets’s “Golden Boy” that opened on Thursday night at the Belasco Theater. Eyes are blackened, uppercuts fly back and forth, and by the end of the play, the young boxer hero, Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich), is staggering across the stage, delirious and practically bathed in blood. But the blows that truly stun are the ones we cannot literally see, the jabs to the soul that Joe inflicts on himself, torn as he is between the urge to make it big as a boxer and the desire to be the artist he feels he was meant to be.Throughout this blistering Lincoln Center Theater production, directed by Bartlett Sher and featuring a superb cast of almost 20 actors — a rare feast on Broadway these days — we watch in anguished anticipation as Joe struggles with a defining question..Do you spend your life trying to shine in a world that values only the mighty dollar and the power it brings, or seek instead to fulfill a humbler, more humane destiny?~Charles Isherwood, New York Times