The Lion in Winter
Monarchial mayhem at its roaring best
|Idle Muse Theatre presents|
|The Lion in Winter|
Review by Katy Walsh
Brothers are fighting over the Crown of England. Mom is visiting from prison. Dad is sleeping with his son’s fiance. The King of France is in the guest room. Going home for the holidays can be stressful. For this family, it’s going to be war! Idle Muse Theatre Company presents The Lion in Winter. Playwright James Goldman imagines the 1183 Christmas gathering for the family of King Henry II. The King releases the Queen from her prison tower to visit. Their contentious relationship survives and thrives on high-stake game playing. The King holds the throne and the marital contract of his mistress to a son. The Queen has valuable land, the region of Aquitaine. They both want it all. Their three sons become pawns in the race for the big payoff. Alliances are made and broken and mended and severed and patched and obliterated. It’s monarchial mayhem. The Lion in Winter roars with majestic family dysfunction.
Goldman wrote just the opposite of a fairy tale. This once-upon-a-time has no Prince Charming. The King and Queen never get to their happily-ever-after. It’s really a Middle Ages political satire. The shifting power alignments are riveting. The dialogue is crisp and clever. At the heartless of it all is the unhappy couple. Elizabeth MacDougald (Eleanor) is deliciously malicious. The Queen of manipulation, MacDougald delivers her disdain with perfect control and comedic timing. Dave Skvarla (Henry) plays it just the opposite as her sporting match. Skvarla is a fervent combo of threatening and playful. Their chemistry gives this show the royal treatment. They genuinely seem to take pleasure in each other’s mind games. Under the direction of Evan Jackson, the entire ensemble commits to distinct and colorful personas. Everyone plays it close-to-the-vest, so changing allegiances continue to surprise and intrigue.
Set designer Dennis Mae has castled up the theatre with movable draped tapestry and stained-glassed partitions. It creates the right palatial ambiance but really should be stationed permanently. Scene transitions go to black-out, a tapestry is shifted and a partition pivoted. It takes too long and is unnecessarily clunky. The change-up doesn’t add anything to the otherwise smooth-paced production. The real visual spectacle is the antics unfolding onstage. In Idle Muse’s The Lion in Winter, the cast could captivate without any scenery.
Idle Muse Theatre’s The Lion in the Winter continues through September 11th at the Side Project Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map), with performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $15-$20, and can be purchased by phone (800-838-3006) or online at BrownPaperTickets.com. More information at IdleMuse.org. (Two hours and thirty minutes including intermission)
Brian Bengtson (John), Alex Fisher (Alais Capet), Eddy Karch (Richard), Elizabeth MacDougald (Eleanor of Aquitaine), Nathan Pease (Geoffrey), Dave Skvarla (Henry), and Nathan Thompson (Philip Capet)
behind the scenes
Tristan Brandon (Dramaturg), Steven Hill (Lighting Designer), Evan Jackson (Director), Kathy Logelin (Dialect Coach), Dennis Mae (Scenic Designer), Jill Meyer (Assistant Stage Manager), Matt Nischan (Sound Designer), and Julie Pearson (Assistant Director and Stage Manager)