At a time when the language of diplomacy has been reduced to a 140-character tweet transmitted at 3am, 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 Oct. 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 East 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 Rød-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 never to 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 at which you would swear you were in the room with them.
Director Jasson Minadakis has gathered an exceptional cast of 14 to tell this story. Sullivan’s Juul acts as the narrator and provides context and humor, facilitating the initial connection between the audience and the play. Phillips is magnificent as part strutting peacock, part heartfelt peacemaker Rød-Larsen. His alcohol-fueled takedown by the participants at one point during the negotiations was wrenching. J Paul Nicholas and Ashkon Davaran as the PLO representatives and Brian Herndon and Ryan Tasker as the initial Israeli contacts are excellent as 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 hardline 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 Tuesday–Sunday through Oct. 28 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. 415.388.5208. $25–$70. marintheatre.org