International diplomacy isn’t easy — especially when it involves getting two warring populations to make hard concessions — and neither is “Oslo,” J.T. Rogers’ three-hour ensemble drama depicting the back-and-forth backroom negotiations leading up to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The play is long and talky and jam-packed with names, dates and historical exposition, but also well-crafted and nuanced, with interesting characters and even humor every now and then. The subject matter is also increasingly vital at this time of heightened instability throughout the Middle East. Under the direction of Bartlett Sher, it is presented with as much clarity and personality as possible.
“Oslo” premiered at Lincoln Center Theater’s Off-Broadway theater last summer, and has now moved upstairs to its larger Broadway venue, serving as a sort of space filler between the company’s big-budget musical revivals of “The King and I” (which closed a year ago) and “My Fair Lady” (slated to open next spring).
Its protagonists are a pair of married, well-meaning Norwegian diplomats (played by Tony winners Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle) who are unexpectedly able to get representatives of Israel and the PLO to secretly meet at a castle in Norway to hash out a peace treaty, a process that is fraught with tension, delay and many bottles of Johnnie Walker Black.
Today, the Oslo Peace Accords are best remembered for the moving visual of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking hands at the White House Rose Garden with Bill Clinton.
Needless to say, the treaty did not lead to a lasting peace. In fact, it provoked violent anger from within each population (including Rabin’s assassination by a dissenter) and may have ultimately intensified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nevertheless, the optimistic message from Rogers (who has previously written about the Rwandan genocide and Soviet occupation of Afghanistan) appears to be that diplomacy is complicated, messy, risky, full of bureaucratic red tape and full of disappointment — but still necessary and worth pursuing.
“Oslo” runs at the Vivian Beaumont Theater through June 18. Lincoln Center Plaza, lct.org