May 18, 2017
Tucked in the backwaters of Norway, an unassuming diplomat Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) assumes a Herculean secret mission: to broker an international peace deal. This entails initiating the primary steps of a peace agreement between Palestine and Israel. At his side stands his secret weapon, his wife, Mona Juul (an enlightening Jennifer Ehle) not to mention those heavenly waffles baked by the inimitable Swedish hostess, Henny Russell.
Flying under the radar, Mays and his levelheaded, brilliant diplomat/wife do what major countries have yet to replicate. By understanding the essentials of human connections as an indispensable bridge to political consensus, Mays invites two Israeli professors to discuss the incendiary issues with two Palestinian politicians living in Tunisia. The meeting follows a couple of specific rules that state business happens without an intermediary in a secluded room. Once the discussions end, the dueling parties socialize in the living room over drinks, and marvelous food prepared by the much-adored Henney Russel.
This routine yields results. Volatile characters confess they’ve never really spoken to the warring side, and they recognize the mutual pain felt over years and years of endless tragedies. Smart, fiercely patriotic men fume and flare up into a peacock style dance, but in the end, progress.
At times, the play feels overwhelming. Will we ever choreograph a comparable détente? Director Bartlett Sher simultaneously drives the action with great fervor and understated accents, fitting the extraordinary cast easily to the stirring words written by J.T. Rogers.
Besides May and his North Star, Mona, the grandfatherly Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes) tugs at heart strings, while his sparring partner the Palestinian finance minister Ahmed Querie (Anthony Azizi) reveals a poet’s soul. Then there are the two hotheads: Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani) who spouts Marxist maxims and the egotistical macho man from Israel Uri Savir (Michael Aronov).
This play is quite remarkable, if for no other reason than to point out that civility can arouse our better angels and unify nations.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis