World War I Veterans Face Sweet and Fitting Lie (Play/NYC)

Two young men who have just returned from war meet one night at a college party and discover that their mutual abhorrence of what they have been through has led them to a deep loathing of the politicians who caused it. In Stephen Massicotte’s excellent new play, “The Oxford Roof Climber’s Rebellion,” the two veterans are T. E. Lawrence and Robert Graves, and it takes no leap of the imagination to translate their World War I experiences into stories from today’s newspaper.

The play, produced by Urban Stages, inventively expands on the real-life friendship of the two soldier-scholars and their shared passion of disillusion. In Mr. Massicotte’s version Graves and Lawrence meet at Oxford in 1920 and undertake a campaign against the heresy, promulgated by politicians, that war is noble and that its victims are all heroes.

The plot revolves around a plan by Lord Curzon, the British foreign secretary, to set aside Nov. 11 as a permanent Day of Remembrance to honor “the glorious dead” from the Great War. Lord Curzon first asks Lawrence to give a speech on the occasion. When rebuffed by the fabled Lawrence of Arabia, Curzon asks Graves, already a poet of some standing.

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