Everyone remembers the stunning and iconic moment in 1993 when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands on the South Lawn of the White House.
They were "two old warriors who personified the conflict between their peoples," wrote The New York Times, "sealing the first agreement between [them] to end their conflict and share the holy land they both call home." But among the many questions that laced the hope of the moment was that of Norway’s role. How did such high-profile negotiations come to be held secretly in a castle in the middle of a forest outside Oslo?
A darkly funny and sweeping new work, Oslo is about a group of Israeli, Palestinian, Norwegian and American men and women struggling to overcome their fears, mistrust and hatred of each other.
As he did with such wit and intelligence in Blood and Gifts, J. T. Rogers once again presents a deeply personal story set against a complex historical canvas: a story about the individuals behind world history and their all too human ambitions.
Yet J.T. Rogers’s Oslo, which opened on Broadway tonight in a Lincoln Center Theater production directed by Bartlett Sher, turns the negotiations that led to the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord of 1993 into gripping human drama. To the extent that it does so by making diplomacy not just interesting but moving, it’s a wonder of savvy stagecraft and wily performance. It’s also, quite possibly, a lie.
Now comes the extraordinary Oslo, Rogers’ riveting dramatization of another complex political tarantella that unfolded in secret before, in September 1993, stunning the world. That was when Bill Clinton presided at a Rose Garden ceremony in which Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands after signing a historic peace accord. Oslo opened last summer in Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse; it’s moved upstairs to the Tony-eligible Vivian Beaumont, where it opened tonight. It’s even better the second time around.
Directed by Bartlett Sher with the same distinguished ensemble cast as in its Off Broadway run last year, Oslo is a study in grays, both literally (in Michael Yeargan’s set and Catherine Zuber’s costumes) and in its studious rejection of black-and-white visions of the Middle East. Nearly three hours long, the play demands attentiveness and works hard to achieve it. (The actors, at times, deliver their lines at alarm-clock volume.) In its bittersweet final swell of hopefulness and humanity, it rewards one of our most endangered virtues, in theater as well as in politics: patience.