Lawrence of Arabia.  It's a name that conjures up an image of a heroic Englishman in white silk Arab robes charging on a war camel across the sands of Arabia.

But what happened to Lawrence after Arabia? 

Lawrence's life after his legendary exploits in the desert is stranger than anything portrayed in the famous film.  He was one of the greatest celebrities of the age, yet he changed his name, rejoined the military at the lowest rank and sought anonymity in the distant corners of the British Empire.  What could have happened out in the Arabian desert that would cause a man who had achieved such fame to despise the very myth he had created?

This new play sets out to discover the truth beneath the legend.   

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THE MAN IN THE DESERT was a semi-finalist for the 2007 Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference, America's most prestigious competition for new unpublished plays, chosen out of 800 entries. 

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Theatre In The Park in Raleigh, North Carolina presented THE MAN IN THE DESERT in 2007.  


Theatre In The Park is almost 60 years old and has an annual audience of 40,000 and is North Carolina's largest regional theatre.  The play starred Ira David Wood as T. E. Lawrence.  He is an award-winning actor who has appeared in movies with Christopher Walken, Cliff Robertson and Natalie Wood.  He has frequently performed internationally and at the Kennedy Center, and is also the father of Evan Rachel Wood, the young star of the movie "Thirteen" (with Holly Hunter), "The Upside of Anger" (with Kevin Costner) and many others.  Co-star Adam Twiss has an MFA from the Trinity Rep Theatre where he was a winner of the Kavanaugh for acting.  

The play
was directed by Michael Lilly, an award-winning Los Angeles director whose productions have won Garland Awards for Best New Play, Entertainment Today's Best Production Awards, and "Critic's Picks" in both the Los Angeles Times and the LA Weekly.  

This is a particularly personal story for the playwright as his father served with Lawrence in the Royal Air Force in the last years of Lawrence's life, although Lawrence called himself "Aircraftman Shaw" at that time - a name he had taken from his friend and social activist George Bernard Shaw.  The playwright heard many stories about the former "Lawrence of Arabia" from his father, and this inspired a lifelong interest in the man and the myth. 


"This is an important piece of work.  The world will discover this play."  

"An eye-opening exploration of T. E. Lawrence... passionate... compelling... will captivate audiences."

"A powerful prescient dramatization of Arabia in the 1930's and its resonance to the current situation."

"Colley has a fine feel for dramatic confrontation and sparring dialogue... Lawrence's complexities are especially subtle and nuanced.  Colley makes the play relevant through frightening parallels to today's Iraq."

"I loved THE MAN IN THE DESERT and haven't stopped thinking about it and talking about it." 

"Amazing!  A truly relevant and utterly brilliant piece of history and art."

 "I was blown away!  What an amazing show, with truly stellar and incredible performances!  A moving, entertaining and relevant play!"  

"As soon as the show ended I wanted to see it again right away."

"A terrific play.  The characters are fully drawn and the tension is really palpable... full of haunting, beautiful, intensely moving character interplay." 

"The image of the desert resonated throughout the play.  The characters are surrounded by it, penetrated by it, haunted by it... it is another character.  The looming Bedouin on the horizon - I could not forget them from start to finish.  They are both sinister and beloved.   Beautiful and dark." 

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Cast:  A/C Shaw:  Ira David Wood III, Lowell Thomas/Crasher: Adam Twiss, L/A/C Walden: Shawn Rhodes, Charlotte Shaw: Christine Rogers, Clare Sydney Smith: Andrea Schultz,  Prince Faisal: Tim Overcash

(Photos © Copyright Steve Larson)

The Prologue - Lowell Thomas' famous illustrated lecture on Lawrence - the lecture that created a legend. 

15 years later, T. E. Lawrence (under the alias "Aircraftman Shaw") arrives in Basrah.

Welcome to 203 squadron (the base is a bit tense). 

Aircraftman Walden - an eager young imperialist. 


A little out of place in the Airmen's Mess

Memories of a happier time. 

Charlotte Shaw (the wife of George Bernard Shaw): "There's some Bedouin out there."

Haunted by visions during bouts of malaria.

A ghost from the past. 





Trying to get Lawrence to end his self-imposed exile. 




Charlotte Shaw: "How can you remain silent when you see what's happening in the east right now?"


"Crasher" is an old Arabia hand who despises Lawrence and the myth he created for taking credit for the fighting Crasher and his mates did. 

"... how the British army had a million men in Arabia and yet one man, history now tells us, did it all on his bleeding lonesome."

Aircraftman Walden tries to hold Crasher back...

...and pays the price. 

Preparing for trouble. 

A memory of Price Faisal and their fight for Arab independence.


Shots from the desert! 

He knows the truth about Lawrence...

Are they going to attack?

"Tell them Lawrence gives his word... "

Memories of betrayal. 


Two old warriors and a lost dream.


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"The TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW provides more coverage of live theater in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of 
North Carolina than all of the other local news media combined."

Review by Robert W. McDowell

    Peter Colley's intriguing new biographical drama THE MAN IN THE DESERT is an eye-opening exploration of a private chapter of the very public life of Lawrence of Arabia -- a life so public, in fact, that World War I hero T. E. Lawrence left the British Army, fled his fame, and enlisted in the Royal Air Force under the pseudonym of Aircraftman Second Class Ned Shaw.  THE MAN IN THE DESERT catches up with Lawrence/Shaw in the early 1930s as he arrives at the remote RAF base in Basrah, Iraq.

    Ira David Wood gives a passionate and completely compelling performance in the title role of a reluctant hero, with some painful monkeys on his back, whose latest desperate attempt at achieving anonymity is about to be ruined by the arrival at the base of a pair of old friends, left-wing political activist Mrs. George Bernard (Charlotte) Shaw (Christine Rogers) and future memoirist Clare Sydney Smith (Andrea Schulz Twiss), who want to convince Lawrence to return to Great Britain, each for her own reason.  Wood eloquently portrays Lawrence's anguish at having his privacy violated once again, even by well-meaning friends.

    Christine Rogers gives a pert performance as concerned friend Charlotte Shaw, who thinks Lawrence would be useful to the political causes that she embraces; and Andrea Schulz Twiss is a delight as bouncy blonde bombshell Clare Sydney Smith, whose not-so-secret crush on Lawrence makes him acutely uncomfortable and his new RAF mates deeply envious.

    Adam Twiss, gives two crisp characterizations.  He's avuncular as American writer and broadcaster Lowell Thomas, who concocted the immensely popular multimedia presentation "With Lawrence in Arabia" that made Lawrence a household name; and he's a picture of righteous indignation as Corporal "Crasher" Dunstone, who hates Lawrence, because he thinks that Lawrence is a glory hound who took the lion's share of the credit for winning the Arab Revolt while rank-and-file British soldiers suffered and died in anonymity.

    Shawn Rhodes also acquits himself well as Leading Aircraftman "Tam" Walden; and Tim Overcash makes a most impressive Theatre In The Park debut as Arab Revolt leader and Lawrence's old friend Prince Feisal, who materializes in a series of flashbacks during which Lawrence and Feisal win the war but lose the peace when the British and the French shamefully renege on promises they made to their Arab allies.

    Director Michael Lilly expertly orchestrates the action of THE MAN IN THE DESERT, on a magnificently detailed set devised by designer Stephen J. Larson, whose work here is superlative.  Larson not only does an excellent job of assembling the guns, other military equipment, and props needed for this compelling drama; and costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson does an outstanding job with an impressive array of 1930s military and civilian fashions.

    THE MAN IN THE DESERT contains memorable characters and a compelling drama that will no doubt captivate audiences in other locations where they have a star and supporting cast to match the current production at Raleigh's Theatre in the Park.


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 "In THE MAN IN THE DESERT Peter Colley has crafted a powerful prescient dramatization of Arabia in the 1930's and its resonance to the current situation in the region."

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A light on 'The Man in the Desert'

 Roy C. Dicks, Correspondent

RALEIGH - Playwright Peter Colley's "The Man in the Desert," at Theatre in the Park, delves into the thwarted dreams and conflicted personality of T.E. Lawrence and offers much to admire in its view of Lawrence of Arabia. 

Colley sets the play in the early 1930s at a Royal Air Force base in Iraq.  Lawrence is serving there under an assumed name, hoping to avoid further notoriety over his exploits leading the Arab revolt against the Turks in 1917.  Embittered after learning that the British never intended the promised Arab independence, he's haunted by visions of Arabian Prince Faisal, whose trust was betrayed. 

Lawrence is soon found out, first by admiring young officer Tam Walden, then by Crasher Dunstone, the corporal in charge, who accuses Lawrence of grabbing all the glory of the revolt without crediting the British soldiers who accomplished it.  Complications emerge with the arrival of close friends Charlotte Shaw (wife of George Bernard) and Clare Sydney Smith (wife of Lawrence's former commanding officer), there to convince him that he's needed in England for a political post.  Lawrence is forced to face personal demons.

Colley has a fine feel for dramatic confrontation and sparring dialogue, which make up the play's heart.  He also has an ear for comedy, supplying Lawrence with witty barbs and Walden with natural humor.  The characters have subtle dimensions; Lawrence's complexities are especially nuanced.  And Colley makes the play relevant through frightening parallels to today's Iraq.

The big moments of the play allow the well-established talents of Ira David Wood III to register effectively as Lawrence and Shawn Rhodes' Walden is genuinely likable in his youthful fervor.   Christine Rogers (Charlotte) and Andrea Schulz Twiss (Clare) enliven their scenes with sharp characterizations and precise timing, while Adam Twiss (Dunstone) heats up the drama with brooding anger.

Stephen J. Larson's dusty airman's mess hall and Shawn Stewart-Larson's authentic costuming add welcome veracity and director Michael Lilly stages the confrontations compellingly.

Colley's play reminds us that heroes are human and that history repeats itself.


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"This is an important piece of work.  What I liked most were the contemporary implications of the story.  The world will discover this play."  Terry Garren  (Terry Garren is an award winning novelist (The Secret War) whose books on the American Civil War were used by Charles Frazier in writing Cold Mountain.) 

"We loved THE MAN IN THE DESERT and haven't stopped thinking about it and talking about it.  Our friends felt exactly the same way.  It has such resonance for today, it's eerie.  Truly wonderful."  

"As soon as the show ended I wanted to see it again right away.  I wanted to hear all those wonderful words again".  Manager, Borders Books. 

"I won't be able to think of anything else but this play for days".  

"The show was simply amazing. What a total treat!  A truly relevant and utterly brilliant piece of history and art all right here in front of our eyes. Thank you so much your passion."

"I was blown away!!  What an amazing show, with truly stellar and incredible performances!  The entire event was moving and I found the multi-media display to be superb.  Many kudos to you and the entire cast and crew for such a moving, informative, entertaining, relevant play!"

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"There were standing ovations at every performance." Stage Manager's Report. 

"Ticket sales have been kicking butt!"  Box Office

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 "I love this play."  Peter Hunt, (former Artistic Director of the Williamstown Festival, Tony Award® winner for 1776, directed The Scarlet Pimpernel on Broadway, etc.)

"I thoroughly enjoyed THE MAN IN THE DESERT.  I was struck by how much the image of the desert resonated throughout the play. The characters are surrounded by it, penetrated by it, haunted by it... the desert is a central figure.  It is another character.  The looming Bedouin on the horizon - I could not forget them from start to finish.  They are both sinister and beloved.  Beautiful and dark.  I was very interested in Lawrence's visions, his attempt to hide his identity, his potentially fabricated past and guilt, and his forbidden love with Clare.  I was also deeply drawn to the character of Crasher - he was invigorating and sympathetic, extremely human (and I was certain I would have hated him).  For a character who enters late in the play, he's fleshed out very believably.  Lowell Thomas has some beautiful speeches - particularly his final monologue.  "   Adriana Bucz, Dramaturg, Tarragon Theatre, Toronto. 

 "This is a terrific script.  The characters are fully drawn and the tension is really palpable.  It's a real page turner full of haunting, beautiful, intensely moving character interplay and lots of very funny and honest moments.  The play weaves a real fabric of immediacy into the theme of doomed nation building.  Amazing and really prescient writing."  Mike Lilly, Director. 

  "I spent a fascinating couple of hours reading your new play.  I am very impressed.  In two acts you almost encompass the whole basic story (with even a lot of details) of Lawrence.  I envy you... envy you both the fact that your father actually knew Lawrence.... and envy the talent that you've shown both in writing the play AND the great article that followed it."  S.F.,  Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Lawrence Scholar).  

  "I really enjoyed THE MAN IN THE DESERT.  T. E. Lawrence is such a fascinating character.  I was so intrigued by this play I went out and bought a book about Lawrence and read it cover to cover.  And there's Charlotte Shaw (wife of George Bernard Shaw) and that friendship!  It's wonderful material!"   Maureen LaBonte, Literary Manager, The Shaw Festival (one of Canada's largest theatres, with an annual audience of 300,000).  


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Preview article in the Raleigh News & Observer