The Lion in Winter is set in the castle of of Henry II of England, in Chinon, France. It is the Christmas of 1183 and Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine has been paroled for the holidays. Henry locked her up when she tried to raise a coupe against him. Also in attendance are their sons Geoffrey, John and Richard (the Lionhearted) Alais, Henry’s mistress, and her half-brother Phillip II, of France. Throughout their stay there is much subterfuge, feinting, manipulation, verbal gouging and tantrum throwing. To playwright James Goldman’s credit, we get a crisp, vivid picture of the significance of issues such as lineage, geographical access, sex versus matrimony and the leverage that comes with sovereignty.
Mostly Goldman strives to strip these historical figures of any regal mien or mythic cache. The juicy repartee and cruel jabs are so self-conscious, he barely gets away with it. How easy is it really, to sell a line like: “I could peel you like a pear, and God himself would call it justice.” ? It’s so utterly over the top, you must cultivate a tone that is high octane and just this side of volcanic. Desperate, yet subdued, ironic but funny, self-indulgent but not self-conscious, enraged but contained. Lion has a comedic layer that makes the vitriol tolerable. But after awhile the excessive abuse and bellicose undercurrent begins to wear us down. We start to get inured to it. Understand this piece can be raucous and exhilarating, but requires pitch perfect acting and chemistry. Ellen Bell (Eleanor) and Dale Moon (Henry) especially, bring zeal and authenticity to this production.
The Lion in Winter is not a complex play, but a strange mixture of elements. The dialogue is mostly glib, cynical, toxic jibes laced with irony and narcissistic, introspective revelation. Like going to a party where everyone is clever and snotty and drunk and spilling out their anger without being completely vicious. They want to wound each other, even at the cost of advantages they intensely want. Eleanor (the queen) wants the throne for Richard (one of the three princes) but not as badly as she needs to see Henry (her husband, the king) suffer. It works because (underneath it all) this family of compulsive warriors actually cares for one another. They feign disaffection, but no one sustains this kind of animus without being deeply invested in the outcome. Goldman (that maniac in a three-piece suit) knows how to throw royalty into trashy behavior, and still draw us into the fray.
Lakeside Community Theatre presents The Lion in Winter, playing February 10th -25th (PM) 2017. 6303 Main St, The Colony, Texas 75056. (214) 801-4869 firstname.lastname@example.org [Calling ahead for directions is highly recommended.]