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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 29, 2009

Review: The Oxford Roof Climber’s Rebellion

By Zach Simeone

ALBANY — Capital Repertory Theatre’s production of Stephen Massicotte’s The Oxford Roof Climber’s Rebellion, despite its strengths, wraps up as a not-so-memorable experience.

The play is based on actual events that took place after World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, circa 1920, when poet Robert Graves (Stafford Clark-Price), back from battle and shell-shocked, befriended soldier Thomas Edward Lawrence (Dylan Chalfy), known for his role in recent events as Lawrence of Arabia.

The play kicks off with their meeting at Oxford University. The play’s antagonist, British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon (Kenneth Tigar), marches onto the scene shortly after.

While Tigar delivers a solid performance, and manages one of the only believable British accents, this introductory scene gives the impression that Curzon and Lawrence were old friends. As the plot rolls on, however, we come to realize that they are bitter enemies, and the transformation of their relationship — if there was even supposed to be one — is rather dull, as their interactions resemble a pissing contest more than an escalating conflict.

Curzon plans to designate Nov. 11 as a day of remembrance for the fallen soldiers of the war, whom he calls “the glorious dead.” The ensuing “rebellion” stems from Graves and Lawrence’s disgust with England’s sugar-coating of the massive slaughter that was World War I, with monikers like “The Great War,” when the memories of their fallen brothers remind them that nothing great transpired.

This point is illustrated poignantly by Lawrence, who tells Graves of the time he executed his own friend out of fear that the enemy might find the man’s injured body and torture him.

Still, the rebellion seems more like a series of pranks, though it climaxes with Lawrence hanging an Arabian flag from the roof of Oxford University, followed by words between he and Graves that may hit home for those who oppose our nation’s present-day position in the Middle East: “You can’t make England Arabia,” says Graves, to which Lawrence replies, “Neither can we make Arabia England.”

Likewise, audience members will draw parallels between Graves and Lawrence’s experiences in battle and the horrors that our soldiers face today, but Clark-Price’s portrayal of the war-torn poet Graves does not reflect a man who has been through a war — he comes off more like a kid who has never been in a fight.

Chalfy’s portrayal of a stone-cold Lawrence of Arabia is a bit more convincing, though some of his exchanges with Graves kill his bravado. In one scene, Graves tells Lawrence he just might be the most dangerous man alive, to which Lawrence blandly replies, “I know.” Given different direction, this kind of exchange might reel an audience member in. Not happening.

While the direction is uninspired at points, it is not without merit. In one scene, Graves and Lawrence are seated in Curzon’s office, their backs to the audience, while Curzon faces the audience and interrogates them. This positioning provides an almost first-person point of view for the audience, and adds to the comedy of the scene. Memories of being yelled at in the middle-school principal’s office come to mind here.

Also, the back wall is dominated by a large monitor, which acts as a piece of digital scenery that illustrates for the audience the appearance of the room the characters are in. During blackouts, the silhouettes of stagehands show against the brightness of the screen, which makes for interesting transitions between scenes.

Still, those who plan on watching this show would do best to brush up on their history first, as this show does little to establish a context for the events that unfold. Whether this is the fault of the writer or the cast and crew is difficult to discern.

Graves’s wife, Nancy Nicholson (Erin Moon), is the emotional anchor in this play, as she is driven nearly mad both by her husband’s absence during his campaign with Lawrence, and by how the war has affected his mind and his health. She spends a great deal of time left alone with the responsibilities of taking care of their child and maintaining their shop.

Nicholson’s performance is an achievement because she not only pulls off an acceptable British accent, but is the only character who actually seems to be genuinely affected. The play and the history it portrays deserve as much.

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