By: Barry Bassis
Should we negotiate or even communicate with our enemies or ban Muslim immigrants? The issues at stake in the current election surface in different ways on New York stages. Oslo is a three-hour play by J.T. Rogers about the negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords. It sounds dry but actually Oslo is an exciting and thought-provoking work. The play tells the little known story of a Norwegian couple, who decided on their own to bring about peace in the Middle East. Director Bartlett Sher’s production at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater is superb. The dazzling cast is headed by Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle as the husband and wife shrewdly maneuvering these violent foes into recognizing each other. The end of the play brings the action up to the troubled present. The script is not only thoughtful but full of witty lines and emotional resonance, as when two of the enemies discover that their daughters have the same names. Oslo has ended its run at Newhouse but will be returning next March at LCT’s Beaumont Theater.
Quietly at Irish Repertory Theatre is an import from the Abbey Theatre, a riveting play by Owen McCafferty, flawlessly directed by Jimmy Fay. The drama is set in an Irish pub in Belfast, where two men meet. Forty years earlier, one (a Protestant) had been responsible for the bombing that killed the father of the other (a Catholic). The third man is the bartender, a Polish immigrant. During the sometimes violent confrontation, the men (who are of the same age) explain what went through their minds at the time of the bombing and in the years since. The production is fortunate in having the original cast from the Abbey: Declan Conlon, Patrick O’Kane, and Robert Zawadzki. Though previously scheduled to run through September 11, performances have now been extended through September 25. What happens when negotiations fail? The answer is war, which is depicted in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, the second of the summer’s presentations at the Public Theater’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The action takes place in the seventh year of the Trojan War. Director Daniel Sullivan has updated the work to the present so that it resembles Iraq or Afghanistan.
The deadly clash of nations is based on the beautiful Helen leaving her husband Menelaus for the Trojan prince Paris. The title characters are another couple in love, though politics gets in the way. The legendary figures from the Iliad and the Odyssey don’t seem especially heroic. Ulysses is presented as a businessman, while Achilles sounds as if he graduated from Ridgemont High. Troilus and Cressida is usually categorized as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” but I’m not convinced Sullivan solved the problems. In any event, there are some impressive performances, notably John Glover as the tart-tongued Pandarus.
Eh Dah: Questions for my Father was presented as part of the New York Musical Festival. The autobiographical work was performed by the remarkably talented Aya Aziz, who also wrote the book, music and lyrics. While Muslims are portrayed by many of our politicians as the Other, Aziz shows that they are not that different from other immigrant groups, trying to make the transition from the old world to the new. Well directed by Corinne Proctor, Eh Dah is often funny and moving and deserves to be revived.