Jerusalem, Israel. Baghdad, Iraq. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Nearly 7,000 miles, a few continents and one ocean separate those cities from Jackson, but Off Square Theatre Company will bridge that divide, bringing a story from the Middle East to this quiet corner of the Mountain West on April 13.
Off Square will put the art of diplomacy on center stage in the Center Theater with a reading of “Oslo,” a Tony Award-winning play that tells the story of Norway’s role in the Oslo Accords, a series of agreements signed between the Israeli and Palestinian governments in the 1990s. Karin Waidley will direct the staged reading, starring actors Jihad Milhem, Ami Dayan and Fajer Kaisi.
The reading, which begins at 1 p.m., will be followed by “The Art of Diplomancy,” a 4:30 panel discussion on with Ambassador Gary Grappo.
Grappo is a career diplomat who served in embassies throughout the Middle East, Europe and South America. For him, combining the staged reading of the diplomacy-forward play with an opportunity for guests to engage with an actual diplomat is a chance to set the record straight on the realities of his profession.
“When diplomacy’s portrayed on the screen it’s done in a deprecating, almost ludicrous and, for a diplomat, insulting way,” he said.
Grappo has seen Hollywood present diplomats as “wimpy, sniveling and conniving” and, though he has not seen “Oslo” he has heard that the play subverts that narrative. Rather than using diplomats as props in an action film, the play allows the audience to observe diplomacy itself in action.
“I think it’s important that audiences see that,” he said. “This really is a significant departure from the way diplomacy is presented.”
Though Grappo was not a part of negotiating the Oslo Accords at the heart of the play, he seems to have a knack of sorts for finding himself in the right place at the right time.
The right place, that is, if you’re a diplomat.
In the ’80s Grappo worked in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution and the subsequent Iran-Contra scandal that consumed former President Ronald Reagan’s second term. He worked the State Department’s Soviet Union desk during that country’s collapse and later went to Iraq as a political envoy in 2009, the year the country held its first round of democratic elections after the United States’ 2003 invasion. After more than two decades of service Grappo ended his career as a diplomat in 2011 as an envoy to the Quartet on the Middle East, a multilateral organization tasked with mediating the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Now Grappo is retired, but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped working. Rather than interpret foreign policy for Washington, he has spent the past few years engaging in a sort of reverse diplomacy as a lecturer and visiting scholar of global affairs at the University of Denver and University of Wyoming.
For the retired ambassador, that sort of education-focused work is just an extension of the responsibilities he had as a diplomat.
“I always felt it was important, and even my duty, to not only interpret wherever I was in the world to the leadership in Washington, but also to Americans,” he said.
“We’re a democracy. We vote for our leaders, and it’s important that people are informed about issues that have an impact on them.”
Grappo said he has always found his Wyoming audiences particularly engaged, which he called a sign of the “interest Americans have in the types of issues that don’t directly impact their lives, but could.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though distant, could easily fall in that basket, and, for Jacksonites looking to dig in and watch diplomacy unfold, “Oslo” and the following panel dicussion would be a great place to start.
Tickets for the staged reading of “Oslo” and “The Art of Diplomacy” cost $25 ($15 for students). They can be purchased online at OffSquare.org. ￼
This story was updated to correct venue information. —Eds.