Thursday, February 14, 2019

OSLO • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

In a White House Rose Garden ceremony in 1993, the Oslo I Accord, an effort that sought to bring an eventual end to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, was signed. A play about the events that led up to the Accords may seem like dry material, but any qualms about that will be gone minutes into the first scene. Under Steven Woolf’s tight direction of a dynamic cast, the Rep’s production of playwright J.T. Rogers’ partially fictionalized retelling is a thriller that takes you underneath what was happening on the surface -- to back-channel diplomacy and sky-high stakes, with a perfect measure of humor.

Mona Juul (Kathleen Wise)
and Terje Rød-Larsen (Jim Poulos).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
The American sponsored talks that were churning in an attempt to bring the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Israeli government to the table to lay peacemaking groundwork were going nowhere. But in Oslo, Norwegian social sciences academic Terje Rød-Larsen (Jim Poulos), and his wife Mona Juul (Kathleen Wise), a diplomat, believed that Norway’s neutral stance and Terje’s theory of gradual trust-building could be enough to broker a peace between both sides. They had their work cut out.

Negotiations began with a couple of Israeli economics professors (John Rensenhouse and Michael James Reed) opposite PLO finance minister Ahmed Qurie, played by Rajesh Bose, whose frosty trepidation is disarmed by warm rapport and the safety of the gathering’s remote location. Later the group is joined by Uri Savir, an Israeli foreign ministry director -- a leather jacket in a sea of suits, played by a swaggering Ben Graney. Israeli deputy foreign minister, Yossi Beilin is played by Jerry Vogel, who has apprehensions about letting the news of the covert meetings reach the higher-ups too soon, as small advances suffer nagging setbacks.

Uri Savir (Ben Graney), Yossi Beilin (Jerry Vogel)
and Joel Singer (Jim Shankman).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Poulos possesses enough contagious affability to win over any leery foreign delegate, and Wise, embodying Mona’s level-headed diplomatic skill, also serves as our guide through the play’s nimble shifts in time and place. The actors all give sharp performances, with a few doubling and tripling up on roles, including Jonathan Gillard Daly who plays the stern Norwegian minister of foreign affairs, and Michelle Hand, who plays his wife and Toril Grandal, the cook at the chateau whose old family recipe for waffles soothes ragged nerves and calms hot tempers. Nathan W. Scheuer’s projections inform location and depict newsreel footage of the bloodshed along the Gaza Strip, while Michael Ganio’s sparse set looms tall, dominated by a huge doorway with rubble laying beyond it.

Ahmed Qurie (Rajesh Bose) and Uri Savir (Ben Graney).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
The peace achieved by the Oslo Accords didn’t last long. But knowing the outcome doesn’t rob the play of its vigorous tension, and emphasizes how enemies can be brought together by intimate connection and common ground. Don’t miss it.


Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by Steven Woolf
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through March 3 | tickets: $29 - $102
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

The cast of Oslo
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Terje Rød-Larsen: Jim Poulos* 
Marianne Heiberg/Toril Grandal: Michelle Hand
Johan Jorgen Holst/Finn Grandal: Jonathan Gillard Daly*
Mona Juul: Kathleen Wise*
Yossi Beilin: Jerry Vogel*
Ahmed Qurie: Rajesh Bose*
Yair Hirshfeld/Shimon Peres: John Rensenhouse*
Ron Pundak/Jan Egeland: Michael James Reed*
Hassan Asfour: Amro Salama*
Uri Savir: Ben Graney*
Trond/Ensemble: Chaunery Kingsford Tanguay
Thor/American Diplomat: Jeff Cummings*
Joel Singer: Jim Shankman*

Mona Juul (Kathleen Wise) and Terje Rød-Larsen (Jim Poulos).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Jack Theiling
Tom Wethington

Scenic Designer: Michael Ganio
Costume Designer: Dorothy Marshall Englis
Lighting Designer: Rob Denton
Sound Designer: Fitz Patton
Projections Designer: Nathan W. Scheuer
Associate Director: Michael Fling
Stage Manager: Emilee Buchheit*
Assistant Stage Manager: Lorraine LiCavoli*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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