Hen/Shakes’ “The Lion in Winter” at the VMFA is pure fun with a bit of a dark side
Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare have brought theatre back to the VMFA with a rousing production of “The Lion in Winter,” written by James Goldman and directed by Jon Kretzu.
Set in 1183, the play centers around the troubled marriage of King Henry II of England, played by David Bridgewater, and his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine played by Melissa Johnston Price, as well as their three scheming sons, all of whom are eager to succeed their father as King. Eleanor has been imprisoned by Henry for treason for the past ten years and he has kindly agreed to release her (although she is still confined to the castle) for the Christmas holiday so she may celebrate with her sons.
Henry’s mistress Alais, played by Audra Honaker, is also present for the festivities. She has been at court since the age of 8 and is betrothed to Henry’s son Richard, played by Alexander Sapp. Alais is quite close to Eleanor and is put in a very uncomfortable place in all the family discord. With Eleanor free to roam the castle, it isn’t long until talk of who will be Henry’s successor begins.
With Eleanor championing for her favorite, Richard, and Henry favoring the weak, mild-mannered, goofball, John, played brilliantly by Dixon Cashwell. Stuck in the middle is Geoffrey, played by David Janosik, who is constantly passed over by his parents. Complicating things further is the arrival of King Philip of France, played by Evan Nasteff, who is eager to start a war with Henry.
“The Lion in Winter” is two hours of pure fun with a little bit of a dark side. Bridgewater and Johnston Price have amazing chemistry. Their characters are complicated and constantly at odds and their banter is highly enjoyable to watch.
Alexander Sapp gives a very strong performance as Richard, playing the character as noble, strong and reasonable, with a bit of a sensitive side. His performance is the perfect foil to Cashwell’s portrayal of John. Cashwell plays John perfectly; a bit of a whimpering fool, who is nonetheless as power hungry as the rest of his family.
Janosik is always a pleasure to watch on stage and his performance as middle son, Geoffrey, is no exception.
I have seen Honaker in many roles and know how brilliant she can be, but the character of Alais is a bit flat, and it feels as if this role was not as challenging to Honaker as previous roles. This most likely comes down to the writing by Goldman, more than the actress. The character of Alais feels thrown in and is never fully developed.
Another character I feel fell victim to the aforementioned lack of development by this writer, is that of King Philip, played by Nasteff, who comes to stay with the family for the holidays. I understand his character’s importance in history, i.e. war with Henry II, the Magna Carta, etc., but however his presence fits into this story is still a mystery to me; other than to cause trouble, which the main characters seem to have no problem doing, all by themselves.
The set by Joshua Bennett is massive and extremely impressive. My only issue was the placement of the throne on the middle landing of a split staircase, as it could be a bit awkward to envision the King sitting on his throne as people pass him on the stairs as they move about the castle.
The costumes by Anna Bialkowski are very attractive, I especially enjoyed Eleanor’s costuming, Johnston Price looked gorgeous as the famous queen.
“The Lion in Winter” is playing in the Leslie Cheek Theatre at the VMFA through February 28th.
www.henleystreettheatre.org for information
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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