During a critical turning-point, just as secret backchannel talks spiral out of control in T.J. Rogers’s epic play “Oslo,” the sweeping TimeLine Theatre Company Chicago premiere production that opened Wednesday evening at the Broadway Playhouse Water Tower, a hip German couple, presumably on a weekend getaway, burst unexpectedly into the negotiation room at the Borregaard Estate.
Stepping diplomatically from dealing with one fractured discussion to another, Mona Juul–the brilliantly versatile Bri Sudia in one of her finest roles to date–attempts a cover story so as not to reveal to the German couple the identity of those in the room, among them: Joel Singer (Tom Hickey), Uri Savir (Jed Feder), Hassan Asfour (Amro Salama), Ahmed Qurie (Anish Jethmalani), and Ron Pundak (Bernard Balbot), who are all trying to find a way forward, and attempting the seemingly impossible: bridging the social, economic, ideological and political abyss that has perpetuated decades of unrest and bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Sudia, as Juul, in rapid-fire, displays her arsenal of conflict management skills, first placating the couple, offering to move them and refund their money. When they flatly refuse, she faces off in a German-laced tirade that has the two-fold result of scattering the interlopers from the room and stunning the men, who rise up in celebration of their mutual admiration for her. Juul’s pent-up frustration then roars emphatically back at them. “You have fought each other—killed each other—for fifty years. Your mothers and daughters and sons have died, and nothing has changed,” she says, and then, in a cascade of steely passion, she tells them, ”No one else is coming to help you. So it is up to you.” In the next moments, the two factions stand in silence as she exits. Then things begin to change.
This not-so-quiet diplomatic backchannel was conceived by Mona’s husband, Terje Rød-Larsen (Scott Parkinson), and together they make an impressive team—a powerhouse couple capable of accomplishing anything. A professor and founder of the Fafo Institute, Terje’s natural instincts and ability to play the middle has allowed him to gain a formidable reputation. Parkinson’s Terje is a man’s man: wily, wise, exuding wide-ranging confidence and charm. Together with Mona’s deft political savvy and engaging personality, the process that Terje first imagines moves forward against all odds. But it is not about them.
The shifting diplomatic positions and posturing from January 1993 through the White House-garden meeting between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in November 1993 forms the arc of “Oslo,” the product of extensive research and interviews by Rogers to uncover and reconstruct events that led to the Oslo Accords, which ultimately led to a profound, albeit brief, peace in the Middle East.
This is a shining moment for TimeLine Theatre Company. A co-production with Broadway in Chicago with an extraordinary cast and creative team—the sleek Jeffrey D. Kmiec set incorporates the beauty of Mike Tutaj’s projections, Christine Pascual’s costumes, Jesse Klug’s lighting and sound by André Pluess—fits seamlessly in the Broadway Playhouse. And there, at the heart of the story, is the essential element in any daunting, seemingly impossible task: to begin. “Oslo” weaves all of the best elements of a political thriller with the historical–now global–subject matter that is TimeLine’s brand with finely tuned, blistering performances that provide an unusual insider view of what is possible, if we only try.