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The Oxford Roof Climbers Rebellion
By Elyse Sommer
The time is 1920, after WWI and the Versailles peace treaty. The place is Oxford, where 32-year-old TE Lawrence (Dylan Chalfy) is supposedly writing his memoirs and the 25-year-old poet Robert Graves (Stafford Clark-Price ) is recovering from physical wounds incurred on the battle field and what we today call post-traumatic stress. Their friendship is somewhat inadvertently initiated by Lord Curzon (George Morfogen), a rather different veteran of the senseless and devastating war that brought tragedy into every corner of British life.
Curzon, the former Viceroy of India, a staunch preserver of Great Britain as the great empire on which the sun never sets, is about to move from his post as Great Britain's Foreign Secretary into one as Chancellor of Oxford. Because Lawrence is a high profile rebel to his politics, Curzon knows he could be an asset to his plan to initiate a national holiday to give people a chance to celebrate and honor their fallen heroes. That's why he's after him to speak at the first November 11th event. However, Lawrence, embittered by a war he feels was as much about politicians like Curzon protecting the country's financial interests than noble patriotism, refuses. Curzon then turns to Graves with whom Lawrence has just become acquainted. Graves is also unwilling to commit himself. Thus begins the intense friendship of Lawrence and Graves, who bond over their antipathy to Curzon, their past as soldiers, and their shared discontent with Britain's present political climate.
Lawrence inducts Graves into the Oxford Roof Climbers, a childhood club devoted to mischief making that he formed with his two fallen brothers. It is in the name of the Oxford Roof Climbers and to relieve their tensions that the two men carry out increasingly reckless pranks, often spending entire nights together. Not surprisingly this displeases Lord Curzon. It also doesn't help Graves' marriage to the feisty Nancy Nicholson (Erin Moon), whose way of dealing with the war (and a tragedy movingly brought to light later in the play) is to banish it from her home —an impossibility given that for her husband the war an ever present deterrent to resuming a "normal" family life.
The play is structured as a series of intense scenes depicting the friends' struggles with their physical and psychological war wounds, their feelings about the war and its aftermath for them personally and the country overall, their contretemps with Curzon, the mounting problems in the Graves marriage— and, eventually, the change in the relationship between Graves and Lawrence.
The many threads of Massicotte's play are elegantly and effectively woven into a dual character study and a slice of history drama that should be required viewing for some of our political leaders. Roger Danforth has drawn superb performances from the entire cast.
Stafford Clarke-Price 's Graves is a convincing, sympathetic emotional centerpiece. Dylan Chalfy is riveting as the charismatic, angry and volatile Lawrence. Both actors are strikingly handsome as well as fine actors. Erin Moon is also excellent as Graves' feminist wife. While most of her confrontations are with her husband, there's one scene between her and Chalfy that just takes your breath away. You couldn't wish for a more on target Lord Curzon than veteran actor George Morfogen. Tom Cleary rounds out the cast in the small but critical role a Lawrence's aide, Jack.
A major production asset is Alex Koch's video design which compensates for the simplicity of the scenery. Be sure to arrive a bit early, so that you don't miss the projected panorama of posters firing up enlistments and support for the War which are beautiful to look at and serve as a wonderful ironic prologue.
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