Veteran Norwegian diplomat Terje Rød-Larsen thinks it was a bit “embarrassing” to see himself portrayed in the hit play Oslo on Broadway. Now it’s won the US’ Tony Award as the best play of the year in New York, depicting the drama behind Norway’s landmark but failed attempt to broker peace in the Middle East in the 1990s.
“The man who played me (Jefferson Mays) is a very good actor,” Rød-Larsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “But it was rather embarrassing to watch anyway.”
Rød-Larsen and his Norwegian diplomat wife Mona Juul (played by Jennifer Ehle) are best known for shaping the so-called Oslo Accords, the first agreement ever struck between Israel and the Palestinians. The ambitious attempt at finally creating peace in the Middle East later fell apart amidst political change in Israel and among the Palestinians, but it remains historic and clearly of great interest given the crowds going to see its theatrical depiction.
Rød-Larsen called the play “good entertainment” and told NRK he thought it did a good job of “bringing forth the tight bonds that developed during negotiations” between Israeli and Palestinian officials. The talks were top-secret, often taking place on neutral ground in an historic manor house in Southern Norway.
Rød-Larsen noted that the play further reflects the “strong friendships” that also blossomed during the negotiations, “and not least all the emotions.” Rød-Larsen later left Norway’s foreign service and made a brief, if unsuccessful, foray into Norwegian politics as a member of a short-lived government formed by the Labour Party’s Thorbjørn Jagland, who now yeads the Council of Europe. Rød-Larsen then went to work for the UN and later head the International Peace Institute in New York. His wife Mona Juul has most recently been serving as Norway’s ambassador to Great Britain.
Not everyone thinks it was a good idea to mount a play based on what’s still an ongoing, often violent, conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Hilde Henriksen Waage, a professor and researcher at the Oslo-based peace research institute PRIO, finds the “success story” portrayed in the play “inappropriate,” precisely because no peaceful solution has been found to the conflict.
“It has created a fairy tale that Espen Askeladd (a character in Norwegian folklore), portrayed as Norway, actually won the princess and half the realm,” Waage told NRK. “But that’s far from the truth. The reality is that there’s no peace in the Middle East.”
Waage thinks it’s sad that the myth and the fairy tale live on, on Broadway. “That makes the actual political realities disappear in people’s consciousness,” she said.
Rød-Larsen and clearly those behind the now award-winning play disagree. “Even though there hasn’t been a final peace agreement with the Arabs and Palestinians, I’m very proud to have been part of the process,” Rød-Larsen told NRK. Norwegians can get a chance to form their own opinion about the play two years from now, when a Norwegian version of it will premiere at Det Norske Teatret (The Norwegian Theater) in Oslo in 2019.