Two Norwegian diplomats pulled off one of the most ambitious peace accords of our time – but few people know about it, said Brian Kite.
Kite, the chair of the theater department at UCLA, is directing L.A. Theatre Works’ production of the Tony Award-winning play “Oslo” – the true story of back-channel negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians that led to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The play, which premieres Friday at the James Bridges Theater, will be recorded for radio as well as performed in front of a live audience. “Oslo” examines the conflict from a behind the scenes perspective, exploring the secret negotiations that occurred before the accords to understand what made such an unlikely peace agreement possible, Kite said.
“It couldn’t be more human than just a couple of people sitting down out of the spotlight to try and figure out their differences, and sometimes the only way to do that is through friendship,” Kite said. “That was one of the things that the Norwegians insisted on – that we’ll go in that room and work through our differences all day, but then we’ll come together at night to have dinner, laugh and just be people in the world together.”
People tend to think of issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as large scale world affairs, but in reality, they’re just human-to-human conflicts, Kite said. Such conflicts, he said, can be boiled down to disagreements between neighbors, and in “Oslo,” it took Norwegian diplomats outside of the conflict to organize and mediate negotiations. Kite said “Oslo” considers both sides by humanizing the Israeli and Palestinian characters alike to help people understand the event by showing the fear, trust and love behind it.
The play takes a delicate political situation and explores the limits and possibilities of diplomacy, said Susan Loewenberg, the show’s executive producing director. “Oslo” shows what can happen when leaders go beyond the constraints of rigid policies and norms and unite as people of goodwill, she said. It’s also a portrait of the Norwegian diplomats who risked damaging their careers to push the boundaries of normal diplomatic behavior and make a breakthrough in the conflict, Loewenberg said. The risks they took regarding their careers helped to humanize them by emphasizing what was at stake, she said.
“These are people who have various skins in the game as it were, various political objectives and personal agendas at work, so you’re getting a full-bodied look at their personalities, their inner personal issues,” Loewenberg said.
Devon Sorvari, who plays Norwegian diplomat Mona Juul, said that performing a show recorded for radio can be freeing in terms of developing a character. She said talking into a microphone and staring out into the audience can be awkward at first, but allows the actors to be unconstrained by sets. However, Sorvari said the historical basis of the show grounds it in reality. While the play is a fictional rendering of what went on behind closed doors, Sorvari referred to videotapes of the real life Juul to emulate her accent, poise and professionalism.
“For something so outward-facing, it feels incredibly intimate, like I’m just in a room with the person I’m doing the scene with, but we’re also in close-up for the audience,” Sorvari said. “It really opens up a lot of unexpected, really human things.”
Kite said “Oslo” remains relevant today, when updates of Israeli and Palestinian attacks and land occupations regularly fill the news. “Oslo” demonstrates that peace is in fact possible, he said. He added he wants to galvanize audiences to play their role in ending this conflict; “Oslo” shows that taking small steps is the only way to enact big change.
“We have to be reminded that there is a way to just sit across from each other and shake hands,” Kite said. “It just takes people – two people sometimes – coming together to decide we’re going to do it.”