If A Walk in the Woods, Lee Blessing’s 1988 play about the private talks between two diplomats—one Soviet, the other American—got cozy with Noël Coward’s country-home comedy Hay Fever, the result would be similar to J.T. Rogers’s 2017 Tony-winning play. Set in 1993, Oslo traces the back-channel negotiations between Yitzhak Rabin’s Israeli government and the PLO instigated by a Norwegian diplomat, Mona Juul (Bri Sudia), and her think-tank-director husband, Terje Rød-Larsen (Scott Parkinson).
The latter in particular is a firm believer that getting the involved parties out of the official conference rooms and into more informal settings where they can see each other as individuals is crucial to achieving a breakthrough. That translates here into a series of complicated (and often hilarious) attempts to get the PLO and Rabin’s team to meet regularly in a Norwegian country home, where they bicker over verbiage, air ancient (yet legitimate) grievances, find common ground over booze (and waffles prepared by Juliet Hart’s hostess), and—yes—take a walk in the woods.
The great strength of Nick Bowling’s smart production for TimeLine (presented in association with Broadway in Chicago) is not just how it keeps the sometimes-complicated narrative clear, though that’s no small feat. It’s how, by showing us the full range of emotions felt by these complex individuals, all of whom are invested in their people’s survival as well as their own desire for a bit of history making, we see the wisdom of Terje’s approach. There’s not a weak link in the 13-member cast. The saddest part is realizing how quickly the advances of the Oslo accords receded following fresh outbreaks of violence. v