James Goldman’s problematic “The Lion in Winter” is a well-known vehicle for actors to show off their mastery of language, rhythm, and sharp emotional bends. It is largely a duet for the actors playing King Henry II of England (Jefferson A. Russell) and Queen Eleanor, heiress of Aquitaine (Deborah Hazlett). At the Everyman Theatre, these two accomplished actors snatch their roles with delight. As the director Vincent M. Lancisi (founder, artistic director) indicates in his program note: “The whole story that preceded the start of the play is accurate. Everything that happens once the play begins is fiction. Let’s hope that’s true – it’s a royal family that makes the Windsors look like Care Bears.
… the acting is strong throughout and the production is a visual feast.
The action takes place in 1183 over approximately 24 hours at the time of the Christmas Tribunal, an annual gathering of influential families and nobles. On Christmas Eve, Eleanor joins the family after a brief release from her imprisonment in the Tower of London, her home for ten years after inciting her three eldest sons to a rebellion against the king. In his absence, Henry had an affair with Alais (Hannah Kelly), sister of King Philip II of France (Ryan Dalusung), although he has pledged to marry Alais to one of his sons, the heir to the throne of England. The family reunion is haunted from the start by the death of the eldest son, young Henry, in another attempted rebellion earlier that year. This leaves Richard (Grant Emerson Harvey), Geoffrey (Zack Powell) and John (Ben Ribler) to compete to be named heir. There were no primogeniture laws in the England of 1183. Eleanor favors Richard and Henry favors John, who was too young to be involved in the previous revolt. Everyone in the family, including the seemingly sweet and docile Alais, plot, plot, conspire, and counter-plot to determine who will be the next king.
The production is well-paced, and the endless bickering is mostly humorous and intermittently shocking. After hurling cruel insults at herself and deftly opening up healed wounds, Eleanor finally asks, “For God’s sake, can’t we love each other just a little?” Here is one of the problems with the script. The playwright made it a family drama, albeit of epic proportions, not a commentary on historical events. For the play to work as a domestic drama, you have to see the humanity of the characters somewhere in the story, if only for a few seconds. For all their protested trauma, the characters never reveal the depth of angst or love that would drive them to their actions. There are moments that are getting closer. In Act I, Henry says to Eleanor, “There are times when I miss you.” “Many?” She answers. “Do you doubt it? Henry answers. It could be a revelation of their once deep love, but it’s so short and abrupt that it feels fun, melancholy, but without real pain, as if Eleanor had spent the last ten years living well in Spain rather than in jail. Later in Act II, Henry and Eleanor give in to a passionate kiss – more passion than he ever displays with Alais – and we feel like we’re about to experience raw pathos again. but got pulled out of the moment too quickly and returned to the constant strategy. . Goldman seems to yearn for Shakespearian emotions in one second and delights in reducing them to sitcom the next. If this is the intention of the author, it is not quite successful. Despite these quibbles with the writing, the acting is strong throughout and the production is a visual treat.
Daniel Conway’s set is a highlight of the production. As the audience is seated, we face the wooden arches of Henri’s palace in Chinon, France, topped with a crown-shaped chandelier. The arches evoke a ship or the belly of a whale. A round mosaic floor centers the action like a large mandala. The back wall is beautifully painted to evoke the Bayeux Tapestry of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. linked skulls. David Burdick’s elegant yet understated costumes reinforce the sense of the era and complement the characters. The golden dress worn by Alais later in the play is particularly striking and shows her transformation from mistress to potential queen.
“The Lion in Winter” runs through November 13, 2022 at the Everyman Theater, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information and tickets, you can call the box office at 410.752.2208. Hours: Monday to Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; and Saturday: 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. Tickets can also be purchased online. COVID-Related Health and Safety Requirements: Patrons are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in theater.