Seeing ‘Oslo,’ Remembering Hope – The New York Times

The lead characters are a Norwegian couple who had Middle East experience and thought they might be able to broker an agreement. This was high-octane audacity. Yet the two of them — Terje Rod-Larsen, a social scientist, and his wife, Mona Juul, an official in Norway’s foreign ministry — pulled it off.

The play’s Mr. Larsen, portrayed by Jefferson Mays, seems a somewhat foggier professorial sort than the man I recall. More jarring is the Juul character played by Jennifer Ehle. She is the narrator and a near-constant stage presence. In 1993, her intimate involvement in the talks was not nearly so evident to outsiders. The differences in perception nagged at me.

After leaving the theater, I went home to reread a long reconstruction of the negotiations — a ticktock, in newspaper jargon — that I had written in early September 1993. I was startled to see I had made no reference at all to Ms. Juul, who is now Norway’s ambassador to Britain. Other newspapers at the time similarly gave her scant attention, if any. Was her onstage prominence a playwright’s invention? Or did we — did I — get an important element of the story flat-out wrong?

I asked Mr. Rogers about it. He had interviewed Oslo principals in researching his play. His sense was that “Juul didn’t really want to take credit for anything,” and at the time purposefully avoided the limelight. Back then, her major role was easy to miss, he said. But she was a key figure: “The men” — the negotiators were all men — “were really struck by her.”

Photo

Here are the real-life negotiators: Uri Savir, the lead Israeli negotiator, left, with Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian negotiator. This picture was taken in Oslo in 1993, six years after the accords were signed.

Credit
Agence France-Presse/Sven Nackstrand

Some of the men on the Beaumont stage were barely recognizable. I’m thinking in particular of Uri Savir, a senior foreign ministry official who was the lead Israeli negotiator. In creating his character, Mr. Rogers exercised his dramatist’s license aerobically. He acknowledged that.

This Mr. Savir, played by Michael Aronov, is bearded and svelte, a live wire in a purple shirt who hops on the furniture spewing obscenities every second or third sentence. The real Mr. Savir was, shall we say, more roly-poly and less flamboyant — definitely unlikely to jump on a table or wear anything other than the standard-issue suit of a career diplomat.

But when it comes to the big picture — how the parties got to yes — “Oslo” nails it. Thus did it transport me back to those heady days.

Secrecy, as Mr. Rogers correctly shows, was essential. The two parties normally had a capacity to leak like a colander, especially the Israelis. “That was the difficult part…

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