×

Broadway Review: ‘Oslo,’ an Intellectual Thriller of Political Intrigue

With:
Jefferson Mays, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Aronov, Anthony Azizi, Adam Dannheisser, Daniel Jenkins, Dariush Kashani, Jeb Kreager, Christopher McHale, Daniel Oreskes, Angela Pierce, Henny Russell, Joseph Siravo, T. Ryder Smith.

Following a well-received Off Broadway run last year, the Lincoln Center Theater production of J.T. Rogers’ play “Oslo” opened April 13 at Broadway’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. The cast was the same, although the Broadway staging eliminated the second intermission of the Off Broadway original. The following is a lightly edited version of Marilyn Stasio’s review of that initial production, which ran in Variety on July 11, 2016.

What would it take to get you to Lincoln Center Theater to see a three-hour political drama about the 1993 peace treaty between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization known as the Oslo Accords? I doubt this review is going to do it, which is really a shame, because “Oslo,” a new drama by J.T. Rogers, is unequivocally fascinating.  Would that some playwright would write as gripping a play about some contemporary political issue. 

LCT subscribers should know how lucky they are, having the opportunity to see director Bartlett Sher’s striking production of this compelling drama. Heading the flawlessly cast ensemble are Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle as the Norwegian tacticians who pull off the incredible coup of getting high-level officials from Israel and the PLO in the same room and actually talking with one another.

Terje Rod-Larsen (Mays) is the inspired and somewhat excitable academic who dares to reach out to the Israelis to start the delicate and dangerous process of these secret negotiations. Terje is a fussy fellow who dresses so well (costumer Catherine Zuber scores again) and whose manners are so refined that Yitzak Rabin insists on referring to him as a Frenchman. Mona Juul (Ehle), his wife and the narrator of the dramatic events, is the even-tempered government diplomat who does whatever has to be done — from ordering the liquor to putting out emotional fires — to make it happen.

“It’s a very small country,” Mona says to the audience, graciously explaining the extremely tight personal and political relationships. “We take nepotism to an entirely new level.” No, that’s not a one-off quip.  Rogers’ (“Blood and Gifts”) clever dialogue really is that witty. You get the facts, but you get them delivered with intelligence and humor by this dream of a cast.  It’s the petty stuff — the pseudonyms, the clandestine phone calls, the drinking competitions, and all the other trappings of macho bravado — that makes these intimidating characters so human. And so funny.

Michael Yeargan’s scenic design and 59 Productions’ projections of constantly breaking battles makes it clear that neutral Norway aspires to be a very soothing nation in a world gone mad. The walls of the classically designed meeting rooms are painted in a restful shade of grayish blue, the furniture is comfortable, and everyone gets exactly the same kind of chair to throw across the room in a rage.

But once the principals meet each other face-to-face for the first time, we might as well be in the blood-splattered ring of a cockfight. In that spirit, Rogers smartly allows all parties to attack their counterparts with a vengeance, drawing on generations of historical grievances. It actually takes three hours, which fly by like time spent at the circus, to make these mortal enemies calm down enough to listen honestly to one another and acknowledge that they have more in common than they would ever admit.

The impeccable casting of these superbly drawn characters acknowledges their individual differences, as well as the common humanity that ultimately wins out.  Representing the Israelis, Shimon Peres (Daniel Oreskes) is the soul of statesmanship, while his right arm man, Yossi Beilin (Adam Dannheisser), growls like the Russian Communist bear he is. The third member of their group, the swaggering director general of the foreign ministry Uri Savir (Michael Aronov), is the star power, a dashing fellow who wears his floor-length leather coat like a movie star.

The Israelis are the comedians, deadly serious but always calculating how to disarm their enemies. When given the stage, they stun their PLO counterparts by telling  jokes — which leaves the Palestinians to draw on their own ancient tongue and play the poets.  No wonder it takes these guys so long to find a common language.

Popular on Variety

Broadway Review: 'Oslo,' an Intellectual Thriller of Political Intrigue

Lincoln Center Theater / Vivian Beaumont Theater; 1,047 seats; $147 top. Opened on Broadway April 13, 2017. Reviewed in its Off Broadway staging July 9, 2016. Running time: TWO HOURS, 55 MIN.

Production: A Lincoln Center Theater production of a play in two acts by J.T. Rogers.

Creative: Directed by Bartlett Sher. Sets, Michael Yeargan; costumes, Catherine Zuber; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Peter John Still; projections, 59 Prods.; production manager, Paul Smithyman.

Cast: Jefferson Mays, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Aronov, Anthony Azizi, Adam Dannheisser, Daniel Jenkins, Dariush Kashani, Jeb Kreager, Christopher McHale, Daniel Oreskes, Angela Pierce, Henny Russell, Joseph Siravo, T. Ryder Smith.

More Legit

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

  • Bat Out of Hell review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Bat Out of Hell'

    No one has ever accused Jim Steinman of subtlety. The composer behind Meat Loaf’s 1977 “Bat Out of Hell” (more than 43 million albums sold worldwide) and 1993’s “Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell” (five and six times platinum in the UK and US) has forever trafficked in a boldly theatrical brand of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content