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A CurtainUp Review
By Betsy Winchester
T.E. Lawrence's life is quite rightly the subject of awe and scrutiny for his involvement as British Military liaison to the Arab Revolt during the First World War. But his subsequent withdrawal from the public eye is perhaps what is most fascinating. That period is what bookends Rattigan's play and is more intriguing in this production than the bulk of the piece which reflects on his time spent abroad.
Though timely in subject and interesting in scope, the first hurdle to be jumped is Rattigan's sometimes pat dialogue which lends itself to being overly dear, as in ". . .I'm afraid you've got it wrong. It was just that-suddenly-for the first time in five years I'd remembered what it was to feel life worth living." The cast as a whole is quite gifted. Peter Dobbins, who as T.E. Lawrence/Ross must handle most of the stilted language, manages to create an honest portrayal. If Dobbins revealed the charismatic leader more fully, Lawrence's exploitation and retreat into solitude would have more weight.
The action of the play taking place at the Royal Air Force Depot comes to life more readily than the scenes those set in the Middle East, perhaps because it is squarely set in real time. Tim Smallwood, Gabe Levey, & Matthew Waterson are lively and inventive as Aircraftmen Parsons, Nolan, & Dickinson respectively, and Gabriel Vaughan as Flight Lieutenant Stoker & Sean Gormley as Flight Sergeant Thompson are well matched.
The blocking in the central passages remains rather static given the license of it being a dream. A greater velocity would certainly serve. Josh Zangen's set evokes vast desert terrain with sharp dunes rising up on all sides, and draping overhangs, but the gauzy material covering the floor is not very actor-friendly and led to some slips. Steven Logan Day's division and use of the space by employing clear traffic patterns was distinctive, though not observed by all, and Bill Sheehan created some beautiful washes with the transition to T.E.'s dream as a standout sequence employing bold and eerie lighting.
The parallel between T.E. Lawrence's story and current U.S. military activity in the Middle East is striking, bringing to bear the nature of history repeating. Lawrence's accomplishments as liason were great, but his difficulty reconciling himself to how he achieved them is a striking example of winners losing. Because of its relevance, this production is well-timed though the writing itself feels dusty. Despite the efforts to make it accessible to modern audiences, in the end, Ross comes off as more of a melodramatic portrait.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide