Oslo had its official bow on Thursday evening at the Vivian Beaumont, to an enraptured audience. Once the curtain came down, it was on to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for the party, where the décor was more East than Middle East but where the food reflected the play’s title.
I am speaking, of course, about the waffles. In the drama, the character of Toril Grandal, played expertly by Henny Russell, prepares the dessert to calm the post-negotiation nerves of the Israelis and Palestinians. With heart-swelling familial pride, she furnishes details about the recipe. So, really, was there any question that waffles would be on the buffet for the repast at the Mandarin?
The director Billy Wilder once said that if you have a simple plot you can have rococo details but if you have an involved plot your presentation should be basic. The Beaumont stage right now is fairly stripped down, while J. T. Rogers’ storytelling and Bartlett Sher’s staging are complex. In other words – and, yes, I know that the comparison is a bit labored! – the stage is the waffle and everything else is the jam and the whipped cream.
At the party, I floated this theory to the production’s set designer, Michael Yeargan. He indulged me, while offering another take on the scenery. “Oslo is the perfect setting for the story. Norway is a cold country with subdued, exquisite taste. The Middle Eastern negotiators come from warmer places and their manner can be more volatile. The contrast is very dramatic.”
The wigs of Henny Russell I will leave to a future blog posting. At the party, I talked about hair with the men in the cast. I asked Daniel Jenkins, who plays the Norwegian Jan Egeland and the Israeli Ron Pundak, and T. Ryder Smith, who plays two Norwegians – Johan Jorgen Holst and Finn Grandal – if it’s difficult to keep their characters straight. “As long as we don’t confuse the wigs,” Smith joked. The two actors and I segued into a conversation about furniture moving, which will also be the topic of a future blog posting.
“There are 64 scenes in the play,” Smith said, “and most of the transitions involve us moving tables and chairs on and off the playing area.” Do they enjoy being members not only of the official Oslo Acting Company but of the unofficial Oslo Moving Company?
“Definitely,” Jenkins answered. “With the acting you’re often unsure as to whether you’ve done something right.” He added: “Moving furniture is much more objective: you either place the table in exactly the right place or you don’t. That’s an easier benchmark – literally.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.