OSLO by J.T. Rogers (Studio 180). At CAA Theatre (651 Yonge). Runs to March 3. $25-$99. 416-872-1212, mirvish.com. See listing..
Ill say this for playwright J.T. Rogers: He likes a challenge. He attempts to distill months of intense peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine in the early 90s, the ones that resulted in the near-miraculous Oslo Accords, into a less-than-three-hour play.
Rogers comes close to managing the complexities. With his theatrical constraints, he can make only a passing reference to U.S. insistence that it be credited with the accord. Also, some plot points turn too quickly, and I wish that there were more scenes demonstrating the humanizing process of the negotiations. As it is, most of the bonding is painfully sexist. But the play is packed with intriguing ideas.
A Norwegian husband and wife team made up of think-tank head Terje Rod-Larsen (Blair Williams) and high-up bureaucrat Mona Juul (Marla McLean) dream up the idea of making the unthinkable happen: Get the PLO and the Israeli government to the negotiating table at a time when, as the Intifada intensifies and hatreds deepen, its illegal for each side to talk to the other. They find two Palestinians, Hassan Asfour (Omar Alex Khan) and Ahmed Qurie (Sanjay Talwar), and two Israelis, Ron Pundak (Jordan Pettle) and Yair Herschfield (Amitai Kedar), willing to take the risk of meeting in Oslo.
They negotiate under a new kind of process called gradualism, in which they deal with one issue at a time rather than put all the disagreements on the table at once. The theory is that as each contested issue is resolved, the two sides stake in the talks increases and and this is what gives the play its dramatic force the two sides can discover each others humanity.
Eventually, the Palestinians insist on meeting with Israeli higher-ups and not two insignificant economists, leading to the appearance of the Israeli upgrade negotiator Uri Savir who, via a fine performance by Jonas Chernick, comes across as a preening rock star bent on scuttling the proceedings but then gradually commits to the peace process.
All the actors staged expertly by Joel Greenberg on Ken Mackenzies suitably austere set (Cameron Daviss projections indicate whats at stake) are excellent as they personally grow through the negotiations. Especially memorable are Talwar, who holds his anger with dignity, Patrick Gilligan as Juuls outraged superior and Kedar as the frustrated economist the Palestinians want to dismiss.
But its Williams and McLean who give the play its soul. Rogers draws Rod-Larsen as a man of principle, to be sure, but one with an unstoppable ego, and Williams makes these complexities wholly believable. McLean is mesmerizing as Juul, the quick-thinking bureaucrat, brainy, brave and beautiful. No wonder every man in the room falls in love with her.
There is some deft humour in this piece especially when Juul breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience but the reality is tragic. The Oslo accord was signed, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist who was against it and eventually Benjamin Netanyahu, who also opposed the accord, became prime minister.
The rest is not history but, sadly, the present.