Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.
“Don’t tell the Americans.” I sit laughing in the seat of the Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center as I watch actors portraying different leaders discussing how to keep the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians a secret from the Americans. Now certainly, political plays can be a hit or miss, especially because bias can permeate the play, leaving a bitter taste in one’s mouth. “Oslo” is far from this. “Oslo” presented the issue completely fairly, allowed for both sides to display their anger and wishes, and truly showed the magnitude of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The play is about the secret meetings that led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between the Israelis and Palestinians. Whether you are a history buff, you are active in discussions about the conflict, or you just want to know more, Oslo does the story complete justice, and I highly recommend it.
The actors were superb — giving every inch of their being to the emotional narratives both sides of the conflict feel. The pain they voice, the struggle they capture through every yell that reverberates through the theater makes you remember how very real and challenging this conflict is — for both sides. In the play, the 3rd party interventions and negotiations were referred to as “Dialogues of the Deaf.” Outsiders are painted as hardly being able to understand or alleviate tension that prolongs attainable peace, which is why Terje Rød-Larsen, the Norwegian Director of the Fafo Institute who was a key figure in the negotiations, claims the method of “gradualism” must be used. This means that both sides are in one room negotiating and then go to the other room as friends, where they talk about their families and lives over food. The parties gradually make progress through human-to-human connection and understanding.
The audience is immersed in both rooms at various points of the play, but more often than not we see the negotiations spill over into the room where they are supposed to be friends. The conflict runs deep and emotions on both sides find their way into the smallest interactions, but at the end of the play you see how the men negotiating not only warm up to each other and recognize the need for peace, but see each other as men and not just an “Israeli” or “Palestinian.” “Oslo” ends with a poignant scene of the actors and actresses listing out some of the events that followed the signing of the Oslo Accords, such at Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, several terrorist attacks, the deaths of men involved in the process of the secret negotiations, etc. The audience is left wondering if everything we just witnessed was worth it. Was there ever really a chance for peace? Did those secret negotiations move us forward or backwards? These questions don’t seem to matter. Now matters.
Peace is right through the negotiation door. Do you see it?