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Highlights: Northern Stage Opens Its Season With a Modern History Play

  • Mike Backman, playing the role of Thor Bjornevog, rehearses a scene of drinking and camaraderie between diplomats from Israel, Palestine and Norway in a scene from "Oslo" at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vt., on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • David Mason, playing the role of Norwegian diplomat Terje Rød-Larsen who helped organize negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, grabs the collar of Matthew Cohn, playing the role of Israeli diplomat Uri Savir, in a rehearsal for the Northern Stage's production of "Oslo" in White River Junction, Vt., on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Peter Hackett, the director for Northern Stage's production of "Oslo," gives directions to his cast during a rehearsal at The Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, Vt., on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2018

During the 1990 movie Reversal of Fortune, Ron Silver, as defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, looks up at his infamous client and observes, “You are a very strange man, Claus von Bulow.”

To which Jeremy Irons, with arched eyebrows, replies in an Oscar-clinching, faux-aristocratic drawl, “You have no i-DE-a.”

That pretty much sums up how Peter Hackett felt while preparing to direct Northern Stage’s upcoming production of Oslo, the Tony-winning dramatization of the secret peace talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993.

“I thought I knew a reasonable amount about the accords, but it turns out I didn’t know anything about the back-channel story, which is really fascinating,” Hackett said last week after a rehearsal at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. “So I did lots of supplemental reading. Months ago, I worked with a research assistant to come up with a package of maps, biographies and the history of the conflict. I distributed that package right away to the cast and said, ‘There is the danger, in doing a historical piece, a tendency to think, in the case of people well known or people still living, “I have to imitate this person.” The thing to keep in mind is that there will be very few people in the audience who knew the people involved in these events.’”

Better, Hackett advises audiences much as he has his team, to approach playwright J.T. Rogers’ script “like one of Shakespeare’s history plays.” Rogers based Oslo on a chance conversation, in 2012, with the Norwegian diplomats who alternately herded and goaded the mortal enemies while plying them with food and drink at a country manor outside Oslo.

“It’s not a documentary, it’s a fiction,” Hackett said. “You take the basic elements, put it all in a mixer, use some dramatic ingredients and create a compelling play that shows how it’s only through talking and listening and getting to know each other as human beings that they achieve a breakthrough.”

And never mind that the peace deal that Israel’s then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat ultimately signed on the White House lawn eroded and crumbled into more decades of chaos and retribution not long after a Jewish Israeli student assassinated Rabin in 1995.

“Given the moment we’re living in at the moment, in a very fractured society, the lesson of this story is perfectly applicable,” Hackett said. “You have to talk, and, more important, you have to listen.”

In the play, the talking and the listening, arranged with a blend of guile and Machiavellian manipulation and hospitality by Terje Rod-Larsen and his wife, diplomat Mona Juul, jumps back and forth in time and geography. As Juul, Northern Stage veteran Susan Haefner knits together the narrative with occasional expository asides to the audience, a key part of a narrative that “is requiring even more rehearsal time than Noises Off! did,” Hackett said.

That play, which Hackett directed for Northern Stage last spring, depicted the struggle of an incompetent British acting company’s players and crew to juggle the sex farce they’re staging with their own personal problems. Haefner and David Mason, who portrays Larsen in Oslo, had roles in Noises Off!. Among the actors joining them in Oslo is Quechee resident and Upper Valley theater veteran Mike Backman as both a Norwegian security operative and an American diplomat who knows more about the back-channel than the negotiators would like.

“There are more than 60 scenes, and it moves like this,” Hackett said, raising a hand and snapping his fingers. “The way (Rogers) wrote it, it works on the level of a thriller. There are a lot of moving parts. You have to work to keep up, but the script provides enough clues about what’s the right road to follow.”

Northern Stage opens its 2018-2019 season on Wednesday night at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, with the first of three previews of the Tony Award-winning dramaOslo. Sept. 22 is the official opening night, and the play runs through Oct. 21. To reserve tickets ($13.75 to $32.75 for previews, $20 for the Sept. 25 show, $17.75 to $57.75 for all other shows), and to learn more about the coming season, visit northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

Best Bets

Among the agricultural exhibits, livestock judging, horse- and oxen- and tractor-pulls, pig races, baking contests and carnival rides, make time during the Tunbridge World’s Fair this weekend to listen to the musical acts on stages around the fairgrounds.

Tonight at 7, the Maine-based Don Campbell Band plays Americana songs in tribute to military veterans under the entertainment tent.

Highlights on Friday include Shana Stack’s country-western band at noon on the grandstand stage, followed by a tribute to Garth Brooks by Fresh Horses. And on the gazebo next door to the Floral Hall, the Mill Band performs old-time country at 1:30 and 4:30, and Timothy James and Connie Button play roots music at 7.

Shows at the grandstand on Saturday include The Conniption Fits at 5, with a tribute to the 1980s bands Foreigner and Journey, and Wanted DOA with a tribute to Bon Jovi.

Meanwhile, Dan and the Dinosaurs will play country-inflected Americana songs in the Floral Hall gazebo.

On Sunday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., bassist Dave Clark and guitarist Rob Oxford play Americana and pop hits.

To learn more, visit tunbridgeworldsfair.com.

■The Scottish trio Cantrip closes the concert series at Newport’s Library Arts Center with a performance on Friday night at 7. Admission costs $16 in advance and $20 at the door. To learn more, visit libraryartscenter.org/threebridges or call 802-863-3040.

■Bradford, Vt.’s Old Church Theater kicks off a two-weekend production of the comic murder mystery As Long As We Both Shall Live on Friday night, at its temporary venue on Waits River Road. Performances both weekends are scheduled each Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 and on both Sunday afternoons at 4. To reserve tickets ($6 to $12) and learn more about the theater’s fall season, visit oldchurchtheater.org or call 802-222-3322.

■The Burlington-based hip-hop ensemble A2VT, made up of singers and dancers from Somalia, Tanzania, Burundi, Nigeria and Nepal, performs at Lebanon Opera House on Saturday night at 7:30. For general-admission tickets ($8.50 to $13.50) and more information, call 603-448-0400, or visit lebanonoperahouse.org or stop by the box office in City Hall during weekday business hours.

■ Ragamala Dance Company kicks off the 2018-19 season at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, performing Written in Water in the Moore Theater. Under the choreography of the mother-and-daughter artistic directors Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, five dancers move in time to vivid projections, while jazz trumpeter and Iraqi maqam player Amir ElSaffar and an ensemble of musicians from southern India play the score ElSaffar wrote. For tickets ($19 to $60) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

On Monday afternoon at 4:30 in the Straus Dance Studio at the college’s Alumni Gym, the Ramaswamys will lead a workshop in Bharatanatyam dance, the basis of Written in Water. The fee is $10; to register and learn more, visit hop.dartmouth.edu.

Looking Ahead

Hartford native Jes Raymond and her husband and bandmate Jakob Breitbach will host their second annual “Americana in the Valley” concert at the Briggs Opera House on Sept. 21. Reckless Breakfast will open the show at 7:30 p.m., followed by the duo of Mark Shapiro and Billy Corbett. Raymond, Breitbach and their band The Blackberry Bushes will close the concert. Admission is $20; for tickets and more information, visit jesraymond.com/tour.

Theater/Performance Art

The ArtisTree Music Theatre Festival opens its production of The Fantasticks with a preview performance tonight at the Grange Theatre in South Pomfret. Broadway veteran Ken Prymus stars as The Old Actor, and Bridgewater comedian Collen Doyle plays Mortimer. For tickets ($18 to $25 for preview performances, $28 to $35 for all others) and more information about these and subsequent festival productions, visit artistreevt.org or call 802-457-3500.

Music

Bethel guitarist and songwriter Spencer Lewis performs this afternoon from 4 to 6 at Colburn Park in Lebanon, during the weekly farmers market.

■The Party Crashers rock the Feast and Field Market in Barnard this evening starting at 5:30.

■The Bradford Ringers host a workshop on handbell ringing on Saturday at Grace United Methodist Church in Bradford, Vt. Sessions are scheduled for basic ringing technique at 10 a.m. and for advanced ringers at 1 p.m. Admission is $5. To register and to learn more, email celinnell77@tops-tele.com.

■Singer Lydia Gray, guitarist Ed Eastridge, drummer Marcus Copening and bassist Andy Bourke perform Brazilian-flavored pop songs, mostly on the theme of “Summer Samba” with a dash of more autumnal tones, on Saturday night at 7 at the Strafford Town House. Admission is by donation to the fund for the town house’s upkeep.

■New London pianist-composer William Ogmundson celebrates the release of his new CD, Simple Gifts, on Sunday afternoon at 4 at the CedarHouse studio in North Sutton, N.H. To reserve tickets ($25) and to get directions, call 603-927-6363.

Bar and Club Circuit

The Dinosaurs, aka multi-instrumentalists Gary Hubbard and Dan Freihofer, play country, bluegrass and rock at Peyton Place in Orford tonight at 6.

■Hartford native Jes Raymond and her husband Jakob Breitbach pull into Windsor Station tonight at 7 to play a set of Americana. Suite 102 perform jazz, blues, rock, soul and Americana there at 8 on Friday night, Purple Voodoo pays tribute to Jimi Hendrix on Saturday night at 9, and the father-son team of Me & The Boy performs Americana music on Tuesday night at 6.

■Singer-guitarist Alison “AliT” Turner plays the Inn at Weathersfield on Friday night at 7.

■The Conniption Fits play a set of rock at Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Friday night at 9, and Tirade frontman Toby Moore performs a solo set of acoustic rock there on Saturday night at 9.

■ Soulfix plays Lebanon’s Salt hill Pub on Friday night at 9, and the folk trio Never Too Late performs on Saturday night at 9.

■Shrimp Tunes plays rock with a Cajun accent at Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon on Friday night at 9, and Plush Foot turns out funky rock on Saturday night at 9.

■John Lackard sings and plays the blues at Newport’s Salt hill Pub on Friday night at 9, and Mike Preston performs country-inflected rock on Saturday night at 9.

■Pianist Sonny Saul performs jazz at the On the River Inn in Woodstock on Saturday and Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 9.

■Organist Norm Yanofsky and guitarist Billy Rosen play jazz during the 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday brunch at the Old Courthouse restaurant in Newport.

■ Keyboardist Doc Winslow, bassist Tom Lord, guitarist Kit Creeger and drummer Bryant Harris play their weekly brunch gig at Poor Thom’s Tavern in Meriden on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

■The Ryan Leddick Trio performs a set of acoustic rock at SILO Distillery in Windsor on Sunday afternoon from 1 to 3.

Open Mics

Woodstock musician Jim Yeager hosts open mics tonight at 7 at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret, and on Wednesday night at 8 at the Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

■The Sunapee Community CoffeeHouse stages its monthly open mic on Friday night at 7, at to the Methodist Church in Sunapee Harbor.

■String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

■Joe Stallsmith leads his weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass on Monday night at 6 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

■Chris Powers hosts an open mic at the Imperial Buffet & Lounge in Claremont on Monday night at 7.

■Fiddler Jakob Breitbach leads a weekly acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music on Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

■Tom Masterson hosts an open mic at Colatina Exit in Bradford, on Tuesday nights at 8.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304. Entertainment news can be sent to highlights@vnews.com.