‘OSLO’  at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center

By Thor & Arlene Larsen

Playwright TJ Rodgers, via his friend, director, Bartlett Sher, met in 2011 with the two Oslo Accord facilitators, Terje Rod-Larsen, a director at the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science in Oslo and his diplomat wife, Mona Juul and learned of their role in enabling the Oslo Accord in 1993. The play is the dramatization of the events that occurred secretly between representatives of Israel and the PLO at various secluded locations around the outskirts of Oslo. 

The story is told from the point of view of these two main facilitators, who both had spent time in the Middle East and had developed close relationships with Israelis and Palestinians. Their sense of ‘love of mankind’ and a deep sense of humane obligation pushed them into this complicated quagmire of meetings between people sent by Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel.

Mr. Rogers has an interesting way of drawing the audience into these negotiations so that even though we are well aware how history played out in the Middle East, we still feel the same hope and possibility for peace as the main facilitators. Mona and Terje, beautifully played by Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays, project these hopes to all around them. Anyone with a sense of justice, especially if they are Norwegian, cannot help feeling a bit disappointed and regretful that at the actual signing of the Accord, Mona and Terje were relegated to looking on from the back of the room receiving no special accolades or recognition of any kind. Sometimes, personal satisfaction has to be our rewards.

Because of their earnest and truthful nature, Terje and Mona were able to initiate talks with low-level representatives of both parties. It was the first time these individuals had ever met each other. Their government officially did not support these meetings. In fact, their personal safety was in jeopardy if their respective government officials found out about the meetings. Under extreme tensions, Terje and Mona were able to break the ice of ‘hatred’. Terje insisted one room would exclusively be used for personal conversations and the other room for negotiations. The personal interactions started slowly, aided by food and beverages. Little progress was made at first meeting and more progress at subsequent meetings. There remained high tension and its drama was balanced by periodic humorous side dialogues.

The setting for the play, the Newhouse Theater, is relatively small and intimate, with four elevated sides of about 25 rows each surrounding the stage so that the viewer sees every spot on the stage very well. The playwright and the director make sure you do NOT want to leave your seat, even for a moment as you become totally engaged with the drama for three full hours except for two 10 minute breaks. A must-see for anyone who appreciates historical drama, the Middle East, and especially those who want to understand the role Norwegians played in realizing the first of the Oslo Accords.