Managed to get to see the remarkable play, Oslo, at the Vivian Beaumont, Lincoln Center, when in New York last weekend. I had heard of two of the leads, Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle, before but not much and not anything about the others in this excellent ensemble cast. The play is based on how two Norwegians with foreign policy backgrounds initiated and facilitated the talks between Israelis and Palestinians that led to the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.
Mays plays a policy think-tank head who has met leading Palestinians and Israelis through his contacts in the foreign policy world. One is the finance minister of the P.L.O. and the other is a right-hand man of Shimon Peres, the legendary Israeli politician who was described upon his death last year as the last of the Israeli founders.
He manages, with the help of his wife, an official in the Norwegian foreign ministry, to bring these Israelis and Palestinians to Norway to meet. (Later, when they warm to each other, they agree that it was a shame they had ended up meeting in Norway: "It's so cold!"). But his approach proves successful: he places the men in a room together and does not join them to facilitate, mediate, or try to drive a bargain. Instead, he wants them to speak directly to the other and he makes sure they are plied with superb local cooking
It works. There are further meetings and eventually, Israel upgrades its representative and finally, a Washington lawyer is brought in to ice the deal in precise terms that Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister, will approve. Although it all seems likely to collapse at any moment, all persevere and the Oslo Accords are signed off by both sides, in Washington, despite the steady dismissal of the American efforts to broker a deal through traditional interventionist tactics.
The performances and the play are both top-notch. It is a thrilling experience to see this play which captures why this unusual event occurred. At the end, each character states what happened to him or her after the Accords were agreed to, and many had unfortunate ends. So did the Accords, rendered mostly ineffective when Israel's government turned to the right after the rightist assassination of Rabin.
Aside from its dramatic power, the play and its performers convince you of what might have been.