“It is only through the sharing of the personal that we can see each other for who we truly are,” urges Tony Award-winning actor Jefferson Mays from the stage of New York’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. This is the philosophy at the crux of the historic 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership and Lincoln Center Theater’s Broadway production of J.T. Rogers’ Oslo.
Political visionary Terje Rød-Larsen, played by Mays, and his wife, Mona Juul, created a secret back channel for leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian delegations to negotiate a peace agreement. Over the course of nine months (and three remarkably swift hours in the theatre), these representatives openly bond over family and food, while, behind closed doors, they scream and fight for the lives of their people.
After a successful opening-night performance April 13, the cast of Oslo (Mays included) joined Playbill on the red carpet to talk about the resonance of the play, the hope Rød-Larsen and Juul inspired, and the intense dialect work needed to portray the players in this political thriller.
For Anthony Azizi, who plays Ahmed Qurie, he felt destined to be part of a play about the conflict. “I was given a D or an F on a paper two years before the Accords were signed that I believed the Arabs and Israelis could sign a peace agreement,” he told Playbill. “I laid out my own plan for it and got a D and the professor didn’t believe in possibility. The reason why I believe this is because I believe in humanity and I believe mankind is one and the earth is one country and mankind is its citizens.”
Azizi was part of the original Off-Broadway company (as was the rest of the cast) that put on the play at Lincoln Center’s smaller space in the summer of 2016. Mays described how revisiting the work opened up new questions: “We started off this endeavor exploring this peculiar world in the Middle East, the Palestinians and the Israelis, and in the second go-around, we sort of all looked at each other and said, ‘You know who the truly mysterious, weird people that have been inaccessible to us are? The Norwegians. Who are these Norwegians? Why do they do what they do?’
“We took that for granted the first time around, and now they’ve grown more mysterious and more difficult and I hope more interesting than the first time,” Mays continued. “It does feel richer, and it remains a joy to discover every night with an audience.”
Two-time Tony Award winner Jennifer Ehle agrees that revisiting the work has been exciting and rewarding. “I’ve learned so much from watching Bart Sher work and from working with him and this extraordinary group of people,” she said.
Ehle plays Mays’ other half—one of these mysterious do-good Norwegians, and the only woman directly involved in brokering this peace process (at least as this drama is written). “They do say that women have a very powerful and important position in negotiations,” she said.
Although the Oslo Accords did not create lasting piece, they—and the play—create lasting hope. “For me, I suppose it’s just the idea of possibility and what can be done when people, implacable adversaries, come together in a room and get to know each other and talk about something. This did happen, and it can happen,” says Mays of the personal affect the piece has had on him. “We did it, and we can do it again.”