Friday, January 15, 2016

THE LION IN WINTER • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

If you think the recent holidays were stressful for your family, trust me -- it’s nothing compared to the rancor going on in James Goldman’s 1966 dramatic comedy, “The Lion in Winter.” Historic tidbits inspired the playwright, a lover of history, to create this fictionalized account of King Henry II of England and his medieval Royal Family’s contentious battle for the throne.

It’s 1183, and the aging Henry (Jeffrey King) is holding the Royal Christmas Court at his Chinon Castle in France. Henry’s limp from a bad leg is overcome by the audacious but charming nature that King gives the character. Carol Schultz is, like Henry, aging, but sharp as a tack and sentimental as a vigilant Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry’s wife, who is allowed a discharge from her imprisonment (it’s the holidays) to partake in some spirited and savage sparring about which of their three sons should take the crown.

Philip Capet (Ryan Ward), Eleanor (Carol Schultz),
Geoffrey (Wilson Bridges), John (Kurt Hellerich)
and King Henry II (Jeffrey King) 
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
It only comes down to two really. Eleanor’s favorite son is Richard. Competent in battle, “the lionhearted” is played with smooth assurance by Grayson DeJesus. Their youngest son, John (Kurt Hellerich), spotty and pouty, is Henry’s favorite, and Hellerich lends the perfect pitch to this spoiled teenager with “privilege issues” you could barely imagine. Then there’s Geoffrey (Wilson Bridges), the brainy, “Jan Brady” of the siblings whom everyone seems to forget. Also on hand are the young French King Philip, (Ryan Ward), slightly detached from the happenings but engaging in his performance, and Alais (Angela Janas), who has deep ties with the family -- destined to marry Richard from a very young age, but now serving as Henry’s mistress.

Alais (Angela Janas) and King Henry II (Jeffrey King).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Director Edward Stern strikes an uneasy balance among his cast, and it seems like an uneasy vibe is what the playwright intended. Once the play gets going and the layout is set, callous jabs and treachery repeatedly come on the heels of declarations of adoration and loyalty, and you can’t help but feel like, as treacherous as this family is, there are real sentiments under all of the turbulence. You’re just not sure what’s real, and what’s a maneuvering ploy. Good stuff.

It’s playing at the Rep until the 31st.

Richard (Grayson DeJesus) and Eleanor (Carol Schultz).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Written by James Goldman
Directed by Edward Stern
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through January 31 | tickets: $21 - $79.50
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

King Henry II of England: Jeffrey King*
Alais Capet: Angela Janas*
John: Kurt Hellerich*
Geoffrey: Wilson Bridges*
Richard: Grayson DeJesus*
Eleanor of Aquitaine: Carol Schultz*
Philip Capet, King of France: Ryan Ward*

Scenic Designer: Joseph P. Tilford
Costume Designer: Mathew J. LeFebvre
Lighting Designer: Thomas Carl Hase
Sound Designer: Rusty Wandall
Stage Manager: Tony Dearing*
Assistant Stage Manager: Monica Dickhens*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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