Great Drama from Secret Peace Talks
In early 1992-93, a series of secret meetings was hidden away in a castle near Oslo. Orchestrated by Norwegian academic Terje Rod-Larsen, the peace talks were designed to prove his theory that he could bring enemies together to chat. Without the huge baggage brought by high level leaders, Terje thought he could work towards peace by making it personal. His model was to work slowly, taking gradual steps, instead of setting big audacious goals. He invited lower ranking officials from Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and much to everyone’s surprise, progress was made.
This true story of the clandestine peace talks is currently on stage at Toronto’s CAA Theatre. While one might think this would be a pretty dry subject for a play, it is, in fact, a fascinating subject. For starters, most of us are not even aware of the Oslo talks. They were kept quiet for many years, because the approach was so unorthodox. The usual diplomatic protocol was not followed: the Oslo talks were called the “back channel” because at the same time, there were widely publicized talks hosted by the United States.
Surprisingly, there are laugh-out-loud moments throughout the play. Cultural differences and quirky personalities add delightful humour. The main characters turn to the audience and give their opinion on other characters or tell the audience what has been going on behind closed doors. This narration technique furthers the story and adds to the humour. Credit goes to director Joel Greenberg for having the humour fit in seamlessly, and not allowing the interruptions to sidetrack the plot.
Every member of the 13-person cast is impressive. Several actors handle two distinct roles without confusion. The play is riveting, thanks to the different personalities the actors create. Of particular note is Israeli actor Amitai Kedar who plays Yair Hirschfeld, the Israeli professor who first meets with the PLO in Oslo, and Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister at the time. Kedar’s subtle ability makes him a pleasure to watch.
The Programme comes equipped with an important introduction from the playwright, J. T. Rogers. He had heard about the talks from a third party who put him in touch with Terje, who told him the story. A time-line shows the dates in history, spanning events starting with the Six-Day War in 1967 through to Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004.
I found it fascinating that the U.S. was making efforts to bring the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization together, only to learn later that it had already been done in Norway. I assume the Oslo talks were kept quiet to let the U.S. save face. In fact, the Oslo accord was finally signed on the White House lawn with Bill Clinton presiding. The Norwegians were given standing room only.
Sadly, the talks did not bring a lasting peace – Palestine and Israel continue to fight over lands, and the animosity is as strong as ever. But playwright Rogers has taken this little known moment in history and made a compelling piece of theatre.
Oslo continues with eight shows a week at the CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic), 651 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario until March 3. Call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.
Photo: Geoffrey Pounsett, Jonas Chernick, and Amitai Kedar in the Studio 180 Theatre production of OSLO. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
By J. T. Rogers
Directed by Joel Greenberg
Performed by 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.
Produced by Studio 180 with David Mirvish
CAA Theatre, Toronto
February 9 to March 3, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson