By James Goldman
Directed by Evan Jackson
Produced by Idle Muse Theatre Company
At The Side Project, Chicago
“A legendary King and an incomparable Queen meet for one last Winter Court – and a battle that will determine the future of an empire. As the sun sets on his reign, Henry Plantagenet, “the greatest power in a thousand years,” calls his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three sons to Chinon, France for the negotiation of a treaty and a marriage contract. Locked behind the palace doors, a deadly game of alliances and betrayals unfolds as each of the players, fueled by anger and old wounds, moves to control who will sit on throne when Henry is gone.”
Outstanding production of The Lion in Winter is a battle of words, wit and intrigue
Under the tightly flowing direction of Evan Jackson and the authentic dialect coaching by Kathy Logelin on Dennis Mae’s suggestive castle tapestry-infused set – The Lion in Winter unfolds as a outstanding work of theatre! The fabulous cast, anchored by Dave Skvarla as Henry Plantagenet and Elizabeth MacDougald as his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, deftly make Goldman’s smart script come to life.
These two 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 (Alex Fisher) is Henry’s young mistress and sister of King Philip of France (Nathan Thompson). Henry has sexual and political interests in Alais. Of the Plantagenet sons—Richard, the Lion (Edward Karch) is the strongest warrior and Eleanor’s favorite son; Geoffrey (Nathan Pease) is the smartest and shrewdest while John (Brian Bengtson) is the youngest cowardly and slow-witted son—he is Henry’s favorite. This dysfunctional royal family survives court intrigue and political pressure through cunning 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 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. Dave Skvarla, as Henry, with all he can handle from Elizabeth MacDougald’s Eleanor battle with each other for dominance.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more articulate production filled with deep-seeded emotions and long-fuming resentment with powerful charismatic turns fuels Idle Muse Theatre’s expert production of Goldman’s gem. You’ll be easily engaged and totally intrigued by these flawed yet human characters as they struggle for power and personal recognition. Kudos to the cast for offering such fine performances. See this play to experience the craftsmanship of Chicago storefront theatre.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: August 13, 2011
At the Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis, Chicago, IL, tickets $20, $15 for students/seniors, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through September 11, 2011