Ahmed Qurie, a PLO official, approached Israeli diplomat Uri Savir in one of the first meetings and, according to the New Yorker, candidly asked, "We are second-rate guerilla fighters. Why are we a threat to you?"
A stunned Savir replied, "Because you want to live in my house."
J.T. Rogers' play "Oslo," currently presented by Los Altos Stage Company, starts months before Savir and Qurie actually met in real life — the two don't interact until Act 2 — but it constantly depends on these types of deeply personal and heated dialogue to flesh out the abstractions of geopolitics and make them more tangible.
Instead of portraying a war between two foreign bodies and its countless players, "Oslo" strips the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down to a simple but effective stage of shifting chairs, desk and large white double doors that constantly loom behind the bitter infightings of a few powerful but vulnerable men.
And it captures the rationale Norweigian sociologist Terje Rod-Larsen, depicted by Robert Sean Campbell, used when he helped facilitate clandestine meetings between PLO and Israeli officials with Norway's foreign affairs minister and wife Mona Juul, played by Tanya Marie, who makes her company debut with "Oslo."
During the nearly three-hour dramatization of the true political saga, directed by Los Altos Stage Company's Executive Director Gary Landis, the couple deftly maneuvers through conflicting cultural beliefs and deeply rooted psychological trauma from years of political persecution in order to get officials from the PLO and Israel to sit in a room for a productive discussion of peace.
But whenever members of the two parties do enter the same space, civility feels as fragile as their masculinity and can only hold together for so long. When Qurie, played by Mohamed Ismail, and Savir, played by Josiah Frampton, begin to review a draft of the accords, it only takes a few lines before one of them starts to blame the other for the carnage that's been inflicted upon their people.
In the first act, Larsen makes a plea to a skeptical Yossi Beilin, Israeli's deputy foreign minister, played by Maya Greenberg in a gender-reversed role, inside a Tandoori restaurant. Larsen can only hope Beilin will agree to negotiate with the PLO as they talk and share a plate of pita bread with hummus.
But Beilin calls Larsen's request a farce — "It's bulls--t." He cites years of violent insurrection, hundreds of deaths of men, women and children, topped with U.S. media scrutiny, that has disillusioned the Israeli government toward any substantive action for peace. As he rants, Beilin starts to experience sharp pangs of indigestion.
"I can't give up the idea that suddenly everything will change and my stomach will be my friend," he complains. "So you see I am dreaming of two peace plans."
Many moments like this in "Oslo" remind how the people who can change the course of millions of lives can be so utterly human.
Audiences can search those moments of "Oslo'' and find something to be optimistic about, along with plenty of comic relief, as Rogers suggests that governing bodies are only made up of people susceptible to the same things and so, just like everyone else, can be agreeably dealt with.
But in those same moments, there's a creeping reminder that power can often lie with an undeserving few, all too dangerously flawed.
"Oslo" runs through Feb. 16 (Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m.) at the Bus Barn Theatre, 97 Hillview Ave., Los Altos. Tickets are $20-$38. Go to losaltosstage.org.
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