Review: Oslo

It is long, it is talky, yet it is never boring. As we begin Oslo we hear Norwegian sociologist Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) discussing his theories about the art of negotiation. He feels that secret, face-to-face discussions behind closed doors, with a thoughtful progression from easy issues to thornier ones, works much better than public negotiations, where parties risk losing face if they budge an inch on anything. He terms his approach gradualism in contrast to the “totalism” of public negotiations, emphasizing that once a “gradualist” approach gets underway, things quickly snowball and it is anything but gradual.

As it happened, in 1993 Rød-Larsen had the opportunity to try his theories out on the most intractable discord of the 20th Century, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His wife Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle) was a diplomat in the Norwegian foreign ministry, and they as a couple had developed relationships with people of note on both sides, and had spent time on the ground throughout the area, including the massively overcrowded and impoverished Gaza Strip.

In short, Oslo is the story of the unexpected way the 1993 Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel came to be. Rød-Larsen and Juul created a “back channel” for negotiation that broke decades of literally deadly diplomatic deadlock between the combatants. Mays is quietly brilliant as the quietly brilliant Rød-Larsen. Ehle plays it cooler still, so those moments when Juul puts her foot down have all the more impact.

As for the negotiators, oy the machismo. I don’t think I’d be going out on too much of a limb to say that the deep-rooted ills inherent in patriarchy are the real problem here. They are, however, intelligently portrayed, especially by Anthony Azizi (as the relatively measured Palestinian intellectual Ahmed Qurie), Dariush Kashani (as Palestinian communist firebrand with an unexpected wry streak Hassan Asfour) and the hilarious Michael Aronov as Israeli official Uri Savir, a tacky hedonist, the straight equivalent of Jonny McGovern’s character “Zarzuffa”:

Bartlett Sher’s direction is every bit as smooth and invisible as the Norwegian facilitators. Unexpectedly engaging, surprisingly entertaining, and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Alec Mapa

I’m more than a little partial to comedy that tells a story; Lily Tomlin’s Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe and Jonny McGovern’s Dirty Stuff are two of my favorite performance pieces ever. I also really like evenings that combine stand-up with gay-themed narrative, like most of Judy Gold’s recent work. So I’m not in the least surprised that I positively love Baby Daddy, the act that “America’s Gaysian Sweetheart” Alec Mapa is currently doing at the Laurie Beechman Theater.

The show is mostly about what has happened since Mapa and his husband, documentary film producer Jamison Hebert, adopted a five-year old black boy from Compton. Mapa has structured the act very intelligently, starting with up-to-the-minute topical material (Ann Romney’s “you people” gaffe was one of the first subjects the night I went), passing gradually to stuff about the funnier side of parenting, and zeroing in the more touching side of parenthood only as the show approaches its end.

Alec includes every side of his life in this act: lost luggage on the way to gay cruises, mid-life crisis circuit partying, and musing on the possibility that Christina Crawford was a thankless brat. Mapa is my favorite kind of comedy writer, one who realizes than scatological humor and intellectual wit aren’t mutually exclusive, as a matter of fact they can happen in the same line.

Mapa name-checks musical theatre in general – and Dorothy Loudon in particular – as being the well-spring of his desire to perform. Mapa self-deprecatingly says that this show isn’t going to reach Loudon-worthy heights (though for my money it gets much closer to that kind of incandescence than stand-up usually does). Mapa spins gay parenthood into show biz gold – ya better not miss it, kid!

For tickets, click here.