By Connie Bollinger
On Sept. 13, 1993, the representatives of two warring countries, sworn and eternal enemies, stepped up to the podium in the White House Rose Garden and announced the first-ever binding peace agreement between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Few people had ever imagined that such an event would take place in their lifetime.
“Oslo” is the true story of the nine-month diplomatic labor that resulted in the 1993 Oslo Accords. Written by J.T. Rogers and directed for The Rep by Steven Woolf and Associate Director Michael Fling, Oslo crackles and pops with personality, sharp dialogue, and breathtaking twists and turns.
Woolf does a fine job of keeping all of Oslo’s plates in the air. The blocking alone must have been a nightmare because the movement never stops. Actors enter and exit in a constant flow, set pieces are arranged and re-arranged with lightning speed; but somehow the movement never interferes with the unfolding story.
J.T. Rogers’ script is insightful, revealing, and makes a hugely complicated event in history make sense. He presents both sides of the decades old and deadly Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Rogers never talks down to the audience, and he doesn’t rely on stereotypes to make a point. There’s a lot of humor blended seamlessly with the weightier topics of endless war and the impossible dream of peace.
The cast is superb, handling the complicated themes and dialogue with care so that even those who are too young to remember the actual events can feast on the tension and the triumph contained in this remarkable play.
Jim Poulos and Kathleen Wise play married couple Terje Rod-Larsen and Mona Juul, Norwegian diplomats who first dreamed the impossible as do-able. Against all odds, they remain a close-knit team throughout the brutal negotiations. Using wit, intelligence, determination and yes, the best waffles in the known world, these two are key in holding both parties at the table.
Poulos and Wise, along with several others of the cast, are Rep favorites. Poulos played Hamlet in the Rep’s 2017 production, and Wise was seen in “The Humans” in 2018. They both do an extraordinary job navigating us through the various twists and turns of the plot.
Two key figures representing the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Ahmed Qurie (Rajesh Bose) and Hassan Asfour (Amro Salama) run the gamut from haughty indifference to blustering threats to astonishing patience. Both men are well suited to their roles.
On the Israeli side, Ben Graney presents us with master negotiator Uri Savir, a young and quietly militant man who knows how to bargain with an old enemy one minute and drink with his new friend the next. Jerry Vogel as Yossi Beilin and Jim Shankman as Joel Singer bring a light touch as the two professors tapped as reluctant early negotiators way in over their heads. John Resenhouse is commanding as Shimon Peres and does double duty, also filling the role of Yair Hirshfeld.
The cast also features Michael James Reed, Jonathon Gillard Daly, Michelle Hand and Jeff Cummings.
It isn’t hard to see why “Oslo” has won multiple awards including the 2017 Tony Award for Best Play, or why the participants of the Oslo meetings were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Although the aspirations of a lasting peace didn’t last long, the very fact of the 1993 talks was an incredible achievement for both nations and for the world.
A word about the production values of Oslo; Scenic Designer Michael Ganio bring his award-winning talents to the Rep stage. The sets were clever in their simplicity and entirely effective and believable; Dorothy Marshall Englis has done the costumes for over 90 Rep productions, and for Oslo she brings her best game; Lighting Designer Rob Denton and Sound Designer Fitz Patton bring us all the sights and sounds of the production; Nathan W. Scheur is the Projections Designer and his handling of all the locales of the play was just so; Stage Manager Emilee Buchheit and her assistant Lorraine LiCavoli kept us moving at the breakneck pace vital to assuring the audience never got bored.
Well done, everyone.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents “Oslo” from Feb. 8 to March 3 on the Mainstage of the Loretto-Hilton. For tickets or more information, visit www.repstl.org or call 314-968-4925.