Review: "Oslo" by Studio 180 Theatre

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  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

In this humble guy’s opinion, ‘good theatre’ should entertain an audience while ‘great theatre’ should entertain and teach us something extremely important about the human condition.

For me, playwright J. T. Rogers has created great theatre with ‘Oslo’, but it is a text richly laden with dialogue so the audience will have to pay close and careful attention. Under Joel Greenberg’s astutely-handled direction, thirteen actors channel emotional and passionate driven performances highlighting the first-ever peace deal between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. (PLO). The fact there were back door dealings (with Terje Rod-Larson and his wife Mona Juul at the helm) that made the peace accord possible fascinated me. This work in secret to try to alter the political reality and bloodshed between the government of Israel and the PLO also intrigued J.T. Rogers, the playwright.

There’s a sense of grand formality upon seeing Ken Mackenzie’s set design which is nicely accentuated in blue shadow light. From my seat, it appears there are stark white walls with wainscoting. My guest commented on the fact that it looked like wallpaper.  There is a door just off-centre stage. There is an iron wrought table and two chairs downstage.  There are chairs positioned along the back wall. 

As the performance continued, I was most impressed with the ease and fluidity of the action with the actors sliding set pieces off and on quickly and quietly. This outside area becomes a place where each side can relax, eat, drink (The Johnnie Walker reference brought a smile to my face), talk of their families and loved ones. It is also a place where they can listen to each other.

I would most certainly advise future audiences to review the excellent introduction from the playwright, J. T. Rogers, to ‘Oslo’ as it contains very important information surrounding the background necessary to understand what was orchestrated to ensure the peace talks were successful.

It's exciting when I can see true ensemble work creating palpable tension that was so thick at times that I didn’t want to move for fear of what happen in the process. and that’s what I found occurred at this performance. Space will not allow me to mention each of the characters and I really wish that I could.

Marla McLean as Mona Juul became a touchstone of safety and security. Juul is also able to think quickly on her feet especially when moments became tense between both sides.  Ms. McLean commanded the stage especially in those clearly focused spot lit moments where she spoke to us to deliver important information about the proceedings.  Blair Williams as Mona’s husband Terje is civil and cordial as he works in secret with his wife to ensure the proceedings do try to proceed as cleanly as possible.

The entrance of Amitai Kedar as Shimon Peres prompted some discussion with a friend who accompanied me to the performance.  What impressed the most was the build to heightened interest in knowing Peres would somehow appear at the conference. When he does appear, I just had this instinctive knowledge without even looking at the program that it was Peres so special note of congratulations to Mr. Kedar for making me believe right away. A slight quibble on perhaps an actor choice – Mr. Kedar’s use of the dialect in his voice made him sound slightly as a caricature. My friend also heard this same tonal quality in Kedar’s voice and this led to some solid discussion on our walk back to Union Station.

Final Comments: It struck me upon leaving the CAA theatre just how important it was to get this peace accord in place.  I don’t believe this is going to spoil the plot especially if we keep up with world news. Sadly, this peace that has been so realistically captured by this extraordinary cast of ‘Oslo’ still does not exist in this region of the Middle East. Not only is it sad, but also it is a terrifying thought in the fact that terror and unrest still exists to this day.

‘Oslo’ is an on the edge of your seat thriller that goes by quickly.

‘Oslo’ runs to March 3 at The CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit www.mirvish.com or call 1-416-872-1212.

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Performers: Jonas Chernick, Patrick Galligan, Amitai Kedar, Omar Alex Khan, Mark McGrinder, Marla McLean, Sarah Orenstein, Jordan Pettle, Alex Poch-Goldin, Geoffrey Pounset, Sanjay Talwar, Blair Williams, Anders Yates

Set and Costume Designer: Ken MacKenzie, Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell, Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne, Projection Designer: Cameron Davis, Stage Manager: Laura Baxter, Assistant Stage Manager: Victoria Want, Assistant Directors: Kerry Ann Doherty, Sarah Orenstein, Director: Joel Greenberg