David Mirvish Presents a Studio 180 Production
Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by Joel Greenberg
Set and costume design by Ken MacKenzie
Lighting design by Kimberly Purcell
Projection design by Cameron Davis
Featuring: Jonas Chernick, Patrick Galligan, Amitai Kedar, Omar Alex Khan, Mark McGrinder, Marla McLean, Sarah Orenstein, Jordan Pettle, Alex Poch-Goldin, Geoffrey Pounsett, Sanjay Talwar, Blair Williams, Anders Yates
No one really knows how the
Parties get to yessss
The pieces that are sacrificed in
Every game of chessss
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens.
(“The Room Where it Happens”, from the musical Hamilton)
If peace in the Middle East remains a cynical illusion, it is not Studio 180’s fault for lack of trying, over the years, to further the negotiations. The Arab-Israeli Cookbook (2006), Stuff Happens (2008) and now Oslo, are plays that have taken a look at the conflict from different perspectives and filters, while never offering up easy bromides, prescriptions or remedies.
Like Lee Blessing’s 1988 play, A Walk in the Woods (about negotiations between the Russians and the Americans around nuclear arms limitations) or Michael Frayn’s two act extended debate between Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr in Copenhagen (1998) about the rationale to build or not to build the atomic bomb, J.T. Rogers play, Oslo, is about the Israeli-Paliestinian divide. It is an attempt to take us into the room where it happens and describe the backstory of events that led to what we now know as the Oslo Accords, signed in Washington, D.C. in 1993. The iconic photograph showing then president Bill Clinton shepherding a handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Ytzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat presents the conclusion of these negotiations, the details of which have long ago receded from our memories.
The reviews of this play when it opened in New York and London were mostly laudatory and it is easy to see why. J.T. Rogers has constructed a 3 hour play that has a compelling story line and a gallery of characters that leaves the audience with a “who knew?” feeling after an exciting evening of theatre. Although the preponderance of male characters seeking political advantage over one another (often propelled by alcohol) led one woman sitting behind me to comment, “a lot of dicky waving”, still the overall effect is powerful.
Director Joel Greenberg’s chief task was to find a Canadian cast that would meet the international standard already set by previous productions and this he has done to perfection.
Although the woman sitting behind me did have a point. Of the eleven men in the cast, there are only two women. Mona Juul (played by Marla McLean) is the wife of Terje Roed-Larsen (Blair Williams), director of the Fafo Institute. Her role is so underdeveloped that Rogers must also use her as a narrator who fills in the backstory of these back- channel negotiations until the crucial final summation of the talks that comes at the play’s end, whereupon the playwright hands it over to her husband. A cruel move to my mind, for hers’ was the role that brought us to this critical climactic ending.
The political follow up to the Oslo Accords was its immediate criticism from both sides of the negotiations. The public intellectual and academic Edward Said wrote an essay entitled, “The Morning After”, which called the Accords “an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles.” Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing Israeli extremist who opposed the signing of the Accords. And it was not without some sense of political irony and skepticism that I read in the New York Times today that Jared Kushner, president Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, met with the Saudi king, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an effort to “build momentum” for Kushman’s long awaited plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The good news for Mirvish Productions and Studio 180 is that, at the conclusion of its run, Oslo, has set a box office record for the Off-Mirvish series for the presentation of a dramatic play at the CAA Theatre on Yonge Street. Gross sales of 11,000 sold tickets amounted to a box office gross of over $650,000 which surpassed the previous record also set by a Studio 180 production, King Charles III, presented last season.
This was clearly a negotiation that turned out well for both parties.