The Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski wrote a seminal text called “An Actor Prepares,” and, attempting to channel his spirit, I frequently observe actors backstage getting ready for a performance. But what about the audience?
The other day, before a matinee, I milled about the Beaumont lobby looking for clues about how the audience gets ready for the curtain. Several patrons were grazing in the issue of the Lincoln Center Review devoted to Oslo, in which they find engaging articles about desert lands, the art of negotiation, as well as an interview with Mona Juul, one of the real-life diplomats conjured in the play.
Other theatregoers were reading copies of J.T. Rogers’ text of Oslo, which has just been published by Theatre Communications Group. In his introduction to this book, Rogers details his own preparation: his initial conversations with Juul and her husband, Terje Rod-Larsen, of course, and the “years-long process of reading, travel, and interviews with multiple participants as I sought to understand the full history of the secret channel – what came to be known as the Oslo Channel – through which the Accords were birthed.”
As I myself looked at a copy of the Oslo text for sale at the Beaumont lobby gift stand, I thought about the book’s epigraph, which comes from Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” The Russian-British intellectual Isaiah Berlin titled one of his books The Crooked Timber of Humanity, which was a source for Tom Stoppard in the writing of The Coast of Utopia.
The Utopia trilogy finished its run in the Beaumont exactly ten years ago, and I often feel its ghosts – the benevolent ones – wafting through the LCT building. But never more so than with Oslo, which, like Utopia, is a crackling combination of political conflict and high-flying ideas. It was the kindly specter of Stoppard himself that touched me on the shoulder as I looked at that copy of Oslo and surveyed the pre-matinee theatergoers getting ready for a thrilling ride. Around the time of Utopia's opening, Stoppard was asked by a reporter if patrons needed to read Herzen and Bakunin and Belinsky before arriving at the Beaumont. “No preparation is necessary,” Stoppard responded. “Just bring an open mind.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com