Couched in a theme of family betrayal and intrigue, seven greedy and ambitious royal characters cheat and connive for personal gain and political power in “The Lion in Winter,” a grand presentation that’s set in the South of France at King Henry’s Chinon Castle during the 24-hour Christmas court held in 1183.
After years on the throne, the main character, Henry II (Kurt Brighton), is beginning to think about his own mortality, feeling it’s time to name a successor. Henry favors his youngest son John (Elliott Harwood), a wimpy, pimple-faced brat who abuses his father’s affection. Queen Eleanor (Kristal Fortune) favors her oldest son, Richard the Lionheart (Tim Moore), but because she took part in civil wars against Henry, he has kept her imprisoned under “house arrest” in a tower in Salisbury, England, for the last 10 years. Now Henry has a young mistress, Alais, the sister of the King of France, (Anna Hershey) but he wants her to marry John to keep England’s holding in that country. Henry tells her that they will be able to remain lovers even if she does marry John, but she feels betrayed and refuses.
Eleanor is allowed to leave her tower on special occasions and when she discovers that Henry wants to name John to be the king, she schemes to have Richard named and even promises to yield her own territory, the Aquitaine, to Henry, if Richard is the heir. In their squabbling about Richard and John, their middle son, Geoffrey (Robin Hebert), feels that he has been neglected, and he begins to undermine both of their plans.
When the final major character of the story, King Phillip II of France (David Trudeau), Alais’ brother, comes to the Christmas Court after the others have arrived he also begins his own plot to rid France of any English holdings, and to achieve this, he tries to enlist John and Geoffrey. We later learn of a physical liaison with Richard the summer before. Alais is just a pawn in the power game, more for her position, and not for herself. With such elaborate premises, the actors have a perfect venue to shine, and shine they do.
Who can you get to follow Peter O’Toole’s Henry II in “The Lion” film of 1968? The answer is simple: Kurt Brighton, who almost walks off with the show in a wonderfully fleshed out performance as his Henry shows a glint of comic flair mixed with a strong sense of power brokerage. Kristal Fortune’s Eleanor is torn between her feelings for her sons, whom she later admits to not liking very much, the humiliation of being imprisoned and seeing her husband flaunt his lover, a girl that she almost raised from childhood. Anna Hershey is excellent as the powerless Alais, and Elliott Harwood makes a wonderfully spoiled prince John, who keeps the audience laughing. Tim Moore keeps a somber face throughout most of the action as the stoic and moody Richard, which gives enormous power to his bursts of anger as the story progresses. His scene with Eleanor in Act 1 is particularly effective and touching. Robin Hebert’s Geoffrey spends a lot of time crouched behind props while smoldering with rage. Hebert’s facial expressions and his calm, cool, calculating delivery leaves the audience wondering if Geoff will out scheme all of them. David Trudeau’s King Phillip of France makes a strong impression. His scene with Richard at the end of act one is genuine and gives patrons insight into the sacrifices he’s made to punish Henry for his perceived mistreatment of his father, the former King Louis.
These grand schemes revolve in an impressive setting of columns and enormous crumbling castle walls that symbolize the family’s deteriorating relationships with each other. The set and scenery is Thingamajig’s crown achievement in design to date — it is simply stunning in terms of technical expertise and detail. Surrounded by muted colors and shadowy lighting design by David Trudeau, the effect is a convincing lair of intrigue and seduction. Local artist Karina Silver has added the finishing touch with a chess board inspired floor that accentuates the actor’s movements perfectly and effectively. In the midst of all this technical wonderment is Chris Campbell’s costume design and construction. To say they are amazingly detailed and visual is a grand understatement. I’ve seen this production many times and never have I seen such beautiful attention to perfection.
The bottom line is that James Goldman’s “The Lion In Winter” is an enormously impressive presentation that explores the concepts of greed, power and treason, with excellent acting and able direction by Pat Payne.
Thingamajig Theatre Company, presents ‘The Lion in Winter’ Nov. 18 through Dec. 4, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. with a special Champagne Opening Nov. 18 (priced at $25 advance/$30 door). Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door for all other dates.
Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.pagosacenter.org or by calling 731-SHOW.