By James Goldman
Directed by Brian Pastor
Produced by Promethean Theatre Ensemble
At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
Goldman’s sassy war of words, wit, and love rings as a hit
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman, is his fictional take on the events of 1183, as Henry II (Brian Parry), King of England celebrates Christmas in his palace at Chinon, France. He has his three sons, King Philip of France (Evan Johnson) and his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Elaine Carlson) at his side as he plots to establish who’ll reign upon his death. They lead the power struggle as each character maneuvers for support for their personal agenda. Goldman’s wordy, witty, and wickedly stinging drama unfolds as an articulate study of language, political posturing, and the search for love.
The family dynamic: Henry is the aging king—who must decide which of his three sons will succeed him. He fears and relishes the gamesmanship of his estranged (and imprisoned) wife Eleanor. She is his equal in political intrigue and verbosity. Alais Capet (Heather Smith) is Henry’s young mistress and sister of King Philip of France. Henry has sexual and political interests in Alais. Of the Plantagenet sons—Richard, the Lion (Jared Dennis) is the strongest warrior and Eleanor’s favorite son; Geoffrey (Nick Lake) is the smartest and shrewdest, while John (Tom Murphy is the youngest cowardly and slow-witted son) is Henry’s favorite. This most dysfunctional medieval royal family survives court intrigue and political pressure through wit and guile. Henry and Eleanor are the supreme game players whose sharp minds and vile tongues offer fine word play as they play psychological mind games. Through smartly crafted plots twists and verbal jousting, The Lion in Winter unfolds as a fantasy play based on actual historical people and events. More than political agendas are at stake here. Being loved, being denied love, and establishing one’s place in the family are underlying motives. The play is about a family in crisis only the stakes here include a kingdom.
The power of love and hate; of gamesmanship and verbal wit are eagerly enjoyed by this family. They all feast on revenge, the infliction of psychological pain, and the winning moments of joy when one person wins a skirmish. This ultimate family gathering boasts bitingly funny drollness and nasty word play played out to maximize love or hate as each devise their next move in the game of family. Brian Parry is fantastic (as usual) as the aging king, while Elaine Carlson equals Parry’s verbal assaults. I could watch and listen to these two debate as they anchor a fine cast in one of the finest productions of The Lion in Winter seen on a Chicago stage in years! This is a wonderful written script expertly performed by a superb cast. A powerful script (with modern resonance) played by terrific actors is in store with your visit to Athenaeum Theatre.
At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago.IL, call 773-935-6875, www.prometheantheatre.org, tickets $24, seniors $19, students/children $14, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, Mondays at 7 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through May 21, 2016