Steve Murray

Performing Arts Reviews

MTC Oslo Davaran Tasker Paul Nicholas Phillips Herndon Estlack HiRes 1

Oslo

Oslo

Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Marin Theatre Company

In a long series of firsts, MTC scores huge with the West Coast premiere of J. T. Rogers Tony Award winning Oslo, a political thriller with a deeply human under current of hope, friendship and détente. In today’s highly fractured partisan vitriol, this stunning production shines like a beacon of sanity and restraint.

J Paul Nicholas (Ahmed Quri) and hs counterpart (Paris Hunter Paul (Uri Savir) meet each other under the watchful gaze of Terje (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Juul (Erica Sullivan).

Rogers took inspiration from the real-life story of Norwegian diplomat Mona Juul and her husband, social scientist Terje Rɵd-Larsen as they bravely broker top-secret meeting between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Israel leading to the historic 1993 Olso Peace Accords. The drama is tightly written almost appearing as a documentary, yet Rogers, who did exhaustive research via television and memoirs, uses nothing verbatim. It’s a testament to his dramatist’s skill that he so skillfully re-creates the player’s beliefs, whether moral, intellectual or political.

Terje (Mark Anderson Phillips) and his wife Juul (Erica Sullivan) conduct telephone diplomacy.

Minadakis, in his 13th season as Artistic Director, is one of the finest directors in the Bay Area and his Olso has the look and feel of the Broadway original. Utilizing the incomparable skills of his creative crew, Oslo dazzles with its technical acumen; Sean fanning’s sparse and immaculate set where the characters shift and move pieces around to create the space for their encounters, York Kennedy and Danny Osburn’s wonderfully dramatic lighting design and Jessica Berman’s attention to dialect.

PLO Finance Minister Ahmed Qurie (J Paul Nicholas) and PLO liaison Hassan Asfour (Ashkon Davaran) negotiate with Israeli economics professors Ron Pundak (Ryan Tasker), Yair Hirschfeld (Brian Herndon) and Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Uri Savir (Paris Hunter Paul).

The fourteen member, all-equity cast sinks their teeth into the script with great performances that draw the audience into each characters lives. Erica Sullivan’s Juul is the peacekeeper, herding the cats together and maintaining calm through the talks. She speaks directly to the audience providing exposition to the plotlines and keeps her husband in check. Mark Anderson Phillips stars as Terje, who has a new concept of engagement called ‘gradualism’, a more emotional approach to conflict resolution that personalizes the parties.

In his new model, each point of contention is addressed separately by the persons themselves as individuals, not as the forces they represent. This theory shapes the course of the play as the two sides, with seemingly irreconcilable differences will find common ground in little moments like two adversaries having the same name for their daughters. Phillips and Sullivan shine as the couple saddled with a burden so enormous and bold that it borders the surreal.

Norwegian diplomats Marianne Heiberg (Marcia Pizzo), Terje Rød-Larsen (Mark Anderson Phillips), Mona Juul (Erica Sullivan) and Foreign Minister Johan Jørgen Holst (Charles Shaw Robinson) discuss the possibility of mediating back channel negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

The supporting cast is up to the momentous scale of the drama. Paris Hunter Paul as Uri Savir, the hard-nosed Israeli butts up against J Paul Nicholas’s Ahmed Quri, his equally forceful PLO counterpart. Ashkon Davaran (Hassan Asfour), Charles Shaw Robinson (Johan Jorgen/Finn Grandal) and Ryan Tasker (Ron Pundak/Jan Egeland) and the rest of the hardworking cast become  characters we all can understand anad empathisize with. The players bond over food, drink and shared experiences, breaking down  rigid stereotypes and long-held animosities.

The Oslo Peace Accords was but a short-lived moment of relief in a region mired in war, misery and hatred. Oslo reminds us though, that there is an opportunity and alternative process for hope.

 Oslo continues through October 21st, 2018 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. Tickets are available online at http://www.marintheatre.org/ or by calling (415) 388-5208.

Photo credits by Kevin Berne