At a time when the language of diplomacy has been reduced to a 140-character tweet transmitted at 3 am, it’s good to be reminded of the men and women for whom the quest for peace demanded actual thought and personal interaction.
J. T. Rogers’ Oslo, now running in its West Coast premiere at the Marin Theatre Company through October 28, is a look at the circumstances and personalities responsible for the Oslo Accords. The 1993 Accords, considered to be a breakthrough in the search for Middle Eastern peace, brought about Israeli acceptance of the Palestinian Liberation Organization as official representatives of the Palestinian people and the PLO’s recognition of the state of Israel.
Norwegians Terje Rod-Larsen (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Mona Juul (Erica Sullivan) are a well-connected husband and wife. He runs a think tank in Oslo; she is an official in the Foreign Ministry. They are the unlikely leaders of a plan to try a “gradualist” approach in middle east diplomacy. Issues would be dealt with one at a time, from the smallest to the largest, and they would be resolved person-to-person, not nation-to-nation. As it was the official stance of both parties to never deal directly with each other, this had to be accomplished through secret, back-channels. Those channels, though far from Washington, D.C., led to that moment on the White House South Lawn when Israeli Prime Minister Rabin shook the hand of PLO chairman Arafat.
Rogers’ play takes the same approach as the negotiations. We get to gradually know the individuals involved. As they become better acquainted, we become better acquainted. As the process evolves, the audience evolves with it to the point where you would swear you were in the room with them.
Director Jasson Minadakis has gathered a terrific ensemble to tell this riveting story. It’s an exceptional cast of fourteen players. Sullivan’s Juul acts as the narrator, providing context and humor and facilitating the initial connection between the audience and the play. Phillips is magnificent as the part strutting peacock, part heartfelt peacemaker Rod-Larsen. His alcohol-fueled takedown at one point in the negotiations by the participants was wrenching. J. Paul Nicholas and Ashkan Davaran as the PLO representatives and Brian Herndon and Ryan Tasker as the initial Israeli contacts are excellent as the across-the-table enemies who soon develop a friendship.
Today, the Accords are in tatters. Rabin met his end at the hand of an Israeli extremist, the PLO has been supplanted by the even more hard-line Hamas, and a true peace remains elusive.
The Accords may have failed, but Oslo gloriously succeeds in their shadow. This beautifully scripted, remarkably performed work reminds us that when humanity is allowed to enter a political process, there’s still hope.
‘Oslo’ runs through October 28 at Marin Theatre Company, 387 Miller Ave., Mill Valley; Tuesday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Saturday & Sunday, 2pm. $25–60. 415.388.5208; marintheatre.org
Photos by Kevin Berne
An edited version of this review originally appeared in the Pacific Sun.