REVIEW: 'Lion in Winter' scores with language, supporting roles
Cast: Michael Miller, Amy Brooks, Micah Speirs, Max Ferguson, Shayn Megilligan, Jessica Parnello, Matt Owen
Playwright: James Goldman
Director: Sarah S. Shaver
Running time: Two hours, 15 minutes, including an intermission
When: 7:30 p.m. 24-26 and Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 4 p.m. Jan. 27 and Feb. 3, through Feb. 3
Where: Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache La Poudre St.
Tickets: $15, $10 student RUSH tickets with valid ID at the door five minutes prior to show; 357-3080, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or springsensembletheatre.org
History can make a rich backdrop for theatrical storytelling. From “Richard III” to “Zero Dark Thirty,” the best step beyond a re-enactment of events and outcomes and is to draw a trajectory from the people that made history live.
James Goldman’s “The Lion in Winter,” strikes that balance deliciously. The 1966 Tony winner, which runs through Feb. 3 at the Springs Ensemble Theatre, takes us to a fictitious Christmas day in 1183. There, King Henry II of England, imprisoned wife Eleanor of Aquataine, their three sons and Henry’s mistress Alais Capet come together for the holiday in Henry’s castle in Chinon, France.
The boys want Henry’s crown. The aging Henry (Mike Miller) wants son John (Shayn Megilligan) to become king at Henry’s death, which, at age 50, appears to be on the horizon. Eleanor (Amy Brooks) favors Richard (Max Ferguson) for king. No one wants son Geoffrey (Micah Spiers), who is willing to play every end against the middle — as long as he comes out on top. Alais (Jessica Parnello) wants Henry for herself, and King Phillip II of France (Matt Owen) wants England’s most precious holding, the Aquataine.
You can’t swing a cat without hitting an ulterior motive.
You may know “Lion” from the 1968 film, adapted by Goldman and starring the pyrotechnic Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn, who won an Oscar for her Eleanor. They paw and perplex, manipulate and manhandle each other with words — bright, cutting words — that may or may not be true.
Miller and Brooks are no O’Toole and Hepburn, whose performances are difficult to exorcise if you’ve seen the film.
Brooks starts steely, but apparently empty, not unlike her 2012 star turn in TheatreWork’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost.” Granted, she handles Goldman’s complex dialogue nicely, which is nearly enough to carry the show, but until the emotional end of the first act, Brooks fails to suggest the inner machinery required to scheme with such venomous precision. In Act II, though, the actress successfully leans into the more human and intimate material, which is her forte. Time may remedy the shortfalls. In fact, I’ve been told that she’s found Eleanor’s unattractive side.
Miller is a compelling figure in whatever his role. Here, though, he fails to convince that he was a “master bastard,” as Henry is repeatedly called, and the most powerful in the 12th-century world. His Henry is small (not surprising for the film actor he is) and strangely modern, like an easygoing character on “Seinfeld.” Where, I wondered, was the hammer of this man’s intelligence and ambitions? Where was his guile?
Still, Brooks and Miller easily sold that relationship between the lovers and enemies, “master bastard” and the “Gorgon.”
In Spiers’ Geoffrey, the ignored son, and Owen’s King Phillip, the click-click-click of their plotting minds came in loud and clear. Geoffrey was appropriately oily, a snake waiting under a knitting basket. And Phillip, a complex young man sometimes outmatched by his experienced opponents.
The scruffy Max Ferguson, who was almost unrecognizable as Richard the Lionheart, created a blunt object of a character. His Richard lacks expected brutality, but nevertheless, has secrets and real tenderness.
Parnello makes the most of her role as Alais, Phillip’s sister and the promised bride of John — or is it Richard? Her Alais is innocent and loving, but as resolutely devoted to her own needs as anyone on that stage.
Megillian, who played the young John, is a senior at Wasson High School. He’s young, of course, and a bit too wide-eyed for this spoiled boy-man who hasn’t the head for such high-stakes games.
Both Jillmarie Peterson’s costume design and June Scott Barfield’s set were just right: Well-rendered and suggestive enough of the time to put you there.