RVA Shakespeare’s ‘The Lion in Winter’ reopens the VMFA’s Leslie Cheek Theater in epic fashion
On February 5, full run theatre will return to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ Leslie Cheek Theater with Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare’s production of James Goldman’s historical epic The Lion in Winter.
The production is directed by Jon Kretzu, a former Portland, Oregon theatre staple, and will star David Bridgewater as King Henry II and Melissa Johnston Price as Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The classic historical work was famously adapted into a 1968 film that won three Academy Awards and starred Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn.
“It is viscerally more exciting to be in the presence of the actors who are making it happen in front of you,” said Jan Powell, Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare’s Artistic Director, when comparing the upcoming production to the legendary film.
One of the reasons the company chose the play was that they “wanted to pay tribute to Peter O’Toole because we lost him [in 2013].”
The play’s far off settings and the heavy label of “historical epic” don’t seem to phase those involved, either.
“I don’t think you really need to know anything about the history in this case, unlike a Shakespeare where it kind of helps if you know, and should read your Cliff’s Notes before you come in.” said Kretzu. “This play tells its story so beautifully with such enjoyable and completely easy to understand dialogue that it really doesn’t matter if you know anything about Henry II and Elenor.”
“It’s so contemporary feeling, even though it has a medieval setting. This is very much a modern dysfunctional family,” said Powell. “I think people will recognize this kind of family from Arrested Development: a prominent family with big desires and big ambitions who are having so much trouble talking to each other and getting anything done.”
And Kretzu believes those involved will be able to provide guidance for a modern audience’s sensibilities through the play’s ironic, quick wit and dry humor.
“We’re very used to this sort of post-modernist take on history, its certainly all over TV now,” said Kretzu, who said the kind of humor you’ll find in The Lion was very in right now. “What might of been kind of surprising and odd and strange for the broadway audience back in 1966, I think nowadays is something we’re very used to.”
“I’d even venture to say that it is even more aligned to our sensibility today than when the play was written in the mid twentieth century,” said Powell.
The opportunity to bring full run theatre back to the VMFA is also exciting. A production of this scale has not run in the Leslie Cheek Theater in the last 13 years, since Theatre Virginia closed.
“Its a great honor to us to be the ones allowed to be the first to bring it back,” said Powell. The selection of The Lion in Winter was conscience to the reopening of long-run theatre in the space: “I wanted to pay tribute to Theatre Virginia’s past by choosing a title that I felt was in sync with the kinds of popular seasons that they had there.”
“It’s the kind of big, wonderfully theatrical kind of play that is a great way to reopen a space,” said Kretzu, who was happy to be able to reopen the space for live shows like hers. “To have this kind of lovely, full equipped theatre not producing plays is just terrible.”
The renovations of the VMFA, completed in 2010, also signaled the return of theatre to the space. Powell said that museum officials want the museum to be seen as a center for arts in the community. “This is not a stuffy closed door museum, this is very much an open-door community center,” said Powell.
Following the Sunday matinee performances of the production, there will be talkbacks with Kretzu and the cast.
“For every show that we do we do a talkback after our Sunday matinees,” said Powell. “We like to open the doors of what we do so people get a better sense of how theatre comes to be, how we choose our plays and [it is] a chance to discuss any issues that might come up.”
The production will run through February 28th. You can pick up tickets here.
Ben Weiner is a contributor for GayRVA and RVAMag. 'Nuff said.
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