Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Lion in Winter

Playwright:  James Goldman
Venue:  Thunder River Theatre, 67 Promenade, Carbondale, CO, 81623.
Running Time:  2 hours 20 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Sunday, December 14, 2014. 

The Lion in Winter, for those who have not seen the play or the 1968 film starring Peter O'Toole, Katherine Hepburn, and Anthony Hopkins, is a historical drama set in medieval England in 1183.  It would be easy to dismiss a subject so remote in time and place as no longer relevant and probably boring.  
Such a dismissal would be regrettable; The Lion in Winter is neither irrelevant nor boring.  In fact, the intra family struggles of King Henry II of England are not unlike the struggles of parents everywhere today.  It turns out that raising children hasn't become any easier in the last 831 years.
Set on Christmas Eve and Christmas day in 1183, Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, are in a quandary:  which of their three sons should inherit the throne after Henry is gone?  Despite their best efforts, none of the three sons seems worthy or even capable of ruling the Kingdom.  
The ensuing treachery and betrayal turns the stage into a Christmas nightmare.  It reminds me a bit of some of the less memorable family holidays in my own household.  The holidays are stressful, but in the royal castle, misbehavior may (and does) get one thrown into the dungeon.
Pre-show shot of "The Lion in Winter" set.  Photo credit:  Bill Wheeler
Thunder River's production is an accessible, personal one; staging it "in the round" brings a three dimensional feel to the characters and the action.  Lon Winston's set design is simple but very effective; the checkerboard floor sets the stage for the intricate chess moves as the characters jockey for any advantage in the succession plan.  The minimalist set pieces permit excellent sight lines from every seat surrounding the stage.
Winston is also King Henry II, and he's a formidable ruler.  Both regal and paternal, he projects power and sensitivity in equal measure.  Henry's struggle to find a capable successor is difficult, and Winston beautifully embodies that difficulty.  He is determined to preserve his Kingdom after he's gone, even though his decision may destroy his family.  Winston visibly struggles with his problem, and cleverly reveals the pain of knowing he can only choose from bad options.
Tracy Madeline (Eleanor), Lon Winston (Henry), Jamie Sklavos (Alais).
Trary Maddelone as Eleanor of Aquitaine seems a thoroughly modern woman.  She gets what she needs from Henry, and tolerates his mistresses in return.  Maddelone is marvelous, making Eleanor an equal to Henry in many ways, taking no back seat to him.  She brings a feminine touch to the cast, but with a brash, bold attitude that makes her as much a player as the King.  
Jaime Sklavos (Alais), plays Henry's young lover (and perhaps his true love) with gusto; one never doubts her attraction to the King.  Sklavos also brings innocence and charm to her role, and there is no problem understanding Henry's infatuation with her.  She's a gem, and he knows it.  Sklavos, though, is also a thoroughly modern woman.  She understands her role, and she understands the danger she will face when she no longer has Henry to protect her.  Sklavos' performance is nuanced enough to make us sympathize with her predicament.  That's a substantial achievement, as Alais might be a lot less sympathetic in other hands.
Henry's sons John (Emery Major), Geoffrey (Adam Solomon), and Richard (David Pulliam) show us a realistic array of qualities and faults that any contemporary parent might find in his or her own offspring.  John is naive.  Geoffrey's talents are for bureaucracy, not leadership.  Richard can be a leader, but he lacks people skills.  Major, Solomon, and Pulliam carefully pull off these characters, making Henry's choice difficult.
Nick Garay (King Philip of France) completes the scheming crowd on the Thunder River stage, and he's got a bit of secret.  He and Richard have a special relationship, making them potential conspirators in the intrigue.  Garay portrays King Philip as a quiet but capable opponent, but his interest in Richard may cloud his judgment.  Garay has a scene with his shirt unbuttoned, and he struts about casually exposing his beautifully sculpted abs.  Richard has good taste in men, and I'm sure there wasn't a woman in the audience who wasn't also eyeing Garay in that scene.
Mike Monroney's direction is spot on.  His characters are not historical, they are contemporary.  The audience is never forgotten; the actors are blocked so as to give everyone a great view of the action.  
Thunder River's The Lion in Winter is a crackerjack show.  It's an excellent production of an exquisitely written script.  Carbondale is a 170 mile drive from the Front Range, but if you're a theater buff, this is well worth the trip.  This is professional theater with a view of Mount Sopris.  
Does it get any better than that?

The Lion in Winter is suitable for all agesThat said, though, those under 16 may find the story to much talk and too little action.
There is free parking on the streets around the theater.
This show closes on December 21, 2014. 
Mount Sopris from Highway 82 near Carbondale.  Photo Credit: Wikipedia.  

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
The White House Pizza restaurant is literally in a white house.  With multiple big screen TVs, excellent pizza, a local brew (Freestone Extra Pale Ale) on tap, and daily specials, it's no wonder the White House has been voted the Best Carbondale Restaurant seven (7) times, including 2014.
We had a couple of issues with the service, but for price, convenience, and taste, the White House is a winner.  It's only about a 2 minute drive to the theatre, so before or after the show, stop in for a snack, a meal, or just a beer.  It's THE place to go in C'Dale.
Photo CreditsThunder River Theatre Company, unless credited otherwise.

Tickets HERE.

Creative Team:
Director:  Mike Monroney
Stage Manager:  Olivia Savard
Scenic Design:  Lon Winston
Sound/Lighting Design:  Brad Moore
Costume Design/Prop Coordinator:  Diane Johnson
Dramaturgy:  Mike Monroney, Lon Winston

Henry II of England:  Lon Winston
Alais:  Jaime Sklavos
John:  Emery Major
Geoffrey:  Adam Solomon
Richard:  David Pulliam
Eleanor of Aquitaine:  Trary Maddelone

King Philip of France:  Nick Garay

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