"The Lion In Winter" Review- Promethean Theatre Ensemble at The Athenaeum

Promethean Theatre Ensemble is currently presenting “The Lion in Winter”, a play by James Goldman, (1966), through May 21, 2016 at The Athenaeum Theatre, Studio Two, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Directed by Brian Pastor and starring Elaine Carlson, Jared Dennis, Evan Johnson, Nick Lake, Tom Murphy, Brian Parry, and Heather Smith, the production is a well stage-crafted (set design by Jeremy Garrett, prop design by technical director Jeremiah Barr, lighting by Jess Fialko) production with a fine musical score by composer/sound designer Ben Sutherland and genuinely simple period costumes  by Rachel Sypniewski.

Jared Dennis as Richard, Nick Lake as Geoffrey, Heather Smith as Alais

 The actors did a fine job with the beloved historical drama, thankfully true to the extraordinary original script, aided in their speech  by dialect coach Catherine Gillespie and in their fisticuffs and swordsmanship by violence designer Brendan Hutt. The story is a capsulized political simplification of the dynastic machinations of Henry the Second of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitane, relative to their remaining sons. Geoffrey, who lacks a moral compass, John, who lacks a brain, and Richard, who is gay and a warmonger, (and whom history tells us succeeds to become Richard the Lionhearted) vie for the succession over a Christmas holiday in the year 1183. The prizes include: the Crown; The Aquitaine, one of England’s richest  French provinces, owned by the Queen who has been released for Christmas from her 10 years long incarceration by her husband; the Queen’s freedom; a bride; and the support of the French King, Philip 11 Augustus, also gay, and supposedly brought out by Richard. The severely dysfunctional family group at the imaginary Court includes the up-for-grabs young lover of Henry, Philip’s half-sister, Alais, raised by Eleanor, and Philip himself, who is interested in Richard, the succession, his half-sister, and the Aquitaine, once owned by France when Eleanor was married to his father, Louis the 7th.

Evan Johnson as Philip, Nick Lake as Geoffrey, Tom Murphy as John

Whether or not the Christmas Court presented here ever took place is unimportant.  It’s a piece of fiction and none of the dialogue or action is historically valid, although the events leading up to the story are generally accurate as depicted. In particular,  the real Eleanor had persuaded their sons to rebel against Henry in 1173, and for her role she was imprisoned (in reality, until his death, in 1189). The eldest son and heir, Henry, has recently died. The play serves not just to to tell the story of  yet another of Britain’s bloody vicious inheritance sagas, but as a paean to the English language itself, with the story as fodder.  The twists and turns of the plot are likewise less important than the incredible dialogue they serve to amplify. The quips, thrusts, barbs and stabs are sharper than the swordplay and often deeply funny.

Elaine Carlson as Eleanor

Brian Parry gives a vivid portrayal of the aging King, known for his sexual and battlefield prowess, vital as ever, emotional and spontaneous. Elaine Carlson is every inch a queen as Eleanor, a legendary beauty, married twice to monarchs, possessed of regal aplomb and sharp cunning- and deeply jealous of Alais. Nick Lake as Geoffrey is a man of brains, energy and cold cunning, but he also deftly portrays a son who longs in vain for his parent’s love. Tom Murphy, as John, gives a really brilliant performance as the sullen, sulky, spoiled and (allegedly) pimply weakling, betrayed by all and willing to betray all. Jared Dennis gives us a stern and complicated Richard, handsome and impressive, dignified and tough. He’s a great soldier and rightly suspicious of everybody’s motives. As Philip 11, King of France, Evan Johnson shows us a man almost as accomplished in manipulation as Henry, but not yet as jaded. Heather Smith, as Alais Capet, really shines in this role, as she morphs before our eyes from ingénue to ruthless queen in the wings. Finally, the relationships between the charachters are, if everchanging, believably drawn, particularly that of the still extant love between the King and Queen.

Brian Parry as Henry, Heather Smith as Alais

The action and repartee,  beautifully set in a gray castle hall and dungeon, is enthralling. The lines are delivered with relish.  This play is very enjoyable and highly recommended.

Elaine Carlson as Eleanor, Brian Parry as Henry

 

 

For tickets to “The Lion In Winter”, and other fine performances by this company, go to www.prometheantheatre.org

 

Photos courtesy of TCMcG Photography

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