The first thing to strike me on the opening night of Pioneer Theatre Company’s performance of “Oslo” was the lack of a synopsis in the program. After reading our preview and looking at the show online, I felt vaguely aware that this story was about politics and it was based on real events. It turned out that I was correct in both of my assumptions. In deference to Pioneer’s choice to omit a synopsis, that is all I will say on the matter.
“Oslo” is not an easy play to put on. For starters, there must have been eight to ten different accents in this show. I truly enjoyed the excellent dialect work of the entire cast. Sarah Shippobotham, the play’s dialect coach, knows her craft. She subtly defines the difference between Swedish and Nordic dialects, Israeli and Palestinian characters and she even throws in a hearty Texan. The work the actors put in paid off and the show is an excellent listen throughout. They also speak several foreign languages including German, Swedish and Arabic. Despite the many layers of foreign accents and languages, as America plays only a peripheral role in the plot, I never lost what was being said. You won’t sit in the audience feeling confused because you can’t understand the actors. However, if you are like me, you might be a little confused because your history isn’t great. Don’t worry, they eventually explain everything.
The designers Leon Wiebers (costumes) and Amanda French (hair and makeup) did a beautiful job. The costumes fit the set, the period, the character’s personality and the humor of the moment. (This play is quite funny, despite its political commentary). The set and lighting also rise to the occasion (pun intended). I particularly enjoyed the full stage painting of Tel Aviv and the crisp clean lines of the homes we see over the course of the show. Daniel Meeker has a flair for the dramatic, which really amplified the tension of the action on stage. The lighting, also done by Meeker, was innovative without distracting, and director Karen Azenberg handled the many character asides with excellent taste.
“Oslo” is a convoluted and often confusing story, but Azenberg held the narrative together excellently with her clear delineation between when the characters speak to us and when they speak to each other. She also does a fantastic job of changing the setting without changing the physical stage. Overall, the story of “Oslo” is not simple, but watching it is no hardship.
So should you go see “Oslo?” My answer is a resounding yes. This show is about trusting others during our darkest moments and learning to work with the people we hate most. Set nearly thirty years ago, it couldn’t be more relevant today. This show also has a lot of truly hilarious moments — you won’t just be sitting and learning for three hours, (and it is a full three hours). So go see “Oslo,” running through Sept. 29. The show plays every day except Sunday, with additional matinees on Saturdays. Students get $5 rush tickets with a UID or you can buy tickets online.