Oslo, Lincoln Center, New York — ‘Poignant’

What now remains of the Oslo Peace Approach? Possibly only J.T. Rogers’ engaging new play about how a Norwegian sociologist, Terje Rød-Larsen, and his diplomat wife facilitated secret Israeli-Palestinian meetings that led to that historic handshake on the White Home lawn between Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat in September 1993.

It all appears really extended ago. “The grip of history is loosening,” as Larsen declares in the 1st scene. “In our lifetime there will not be yet another moment like this,” he later adds.

Since those heady days at the finish of the cold war, history’s grasp has closed ever tighter around the Middle East. A poignant sense of dramatic irony therefore hangs more than Oslo. For more than two and a half hours, the rival delegations go at each other hammer and tongs although gradually moving towards a deal. But we know it is all destined to finish in failure.

The play itself succeeds in drawing us into the minutiae of now dimly remembered diplomatic brawling. It is a drastically traditional and occasionally heavy-handed operate lacking the intellectual zing that a Michael Frayn or a Tony Kushner may well have brought to the material. But the many frustrations and occasional triumphs of the year-extended negotiations are scrupulously conveyed. Bartlett Sher’s by-the-book staging also seems in maintaining with the gravity of the subject.

Amongst the dexterous, accent-juggling ensemble, Joseph Siravo stands out for his imposing portrayal of Israeli brain and brawn in the role of Joel Singer, the lawyer and ex-army officer who authored much of the final agreement. Jefferson Mays also impresses as Larsen, the unassuming functionary whose latent desire for prestige and influence gradually reveals itself.

Like Larsen, who was the original supply for the story, Rogers avoids openly taking sides. But he drops hints throughout the script that the Palestinians, exhausted by decades of war and exile, have been desperate to cut a deal at all costs and sooner or later came away with reasonably little.

At the finish, Larsen, clearly preoccupied with his personal location in history, begs us to glimpse “the possibility” of a future peace. But no, we can not see it any more.

To August 28, lct.org

Section: Arts