THE OXFORD ROOF CLIMBER'S REBELLION by Stephen Massicotte, directed by Richard Rose (Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). To December 17. $32-$38, Sunday pwyc-$17. 416-531-1827. See Continuing, page 96. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Oxford Roof Climber's Rebellion raises the flag of dissent but doesn't quite win the battle.
Set in 1920s Oxford, Stephen Massicotte 's piece fictionalizes the relationship between two disillusioned soldiers, T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and poet Robert Graves. Lawrence has tried to unite the Arab tribes into a nation, but the European powers thwarted his efforts. The badly injured Graves still has nightmares about his wartime experiences.
Under Lawrence's leadership, the two begin pulling schoolboy pranks on Lord Curzon, Oxford chancellor and member of the war cabinet. The pranks have an angry underside, an awareness that any war, especially one involving conquest (and the dialogue echoes today's headlines) is futile.
The script has some fine moments, mostly in depicting the relationship between the complex, ironic, self-flagellating Lawrence and the emotionally hemmed-in Graves, who is suffering from survivor's guilt. Massicotte's nuanced characters, battling internal demons, resonate powerfully in Tom Rooney and Jonathan Crombie 's performances.
There's a sexual subtext between the men as well, one made more poignant by the fact that Graves is married and has two children. His wife, Nancy (the fine Michelle Giroux ), a feminist, has an understandably complex reaction to the fact that her husband, caught between the simple pleasures of family life and the exciting danger that Lawrence offers, spends nights with his mentor.
In the too-brief show's final scene, the first meeting between Lawrence and Nancy sets off, under Richard Rose 's direction, some of the production's finest sparks.
But the other characters, Curzon ( Victor Ertmanis ) and Lawrence's man Jack ( Paul Rainville ), are less skilfully written. Curzon's villain is a straw man, and Jack feels more like a plot device than a character.
This Rebellion needs more fuel to catch fire theatrically.