Monthly Archives: December 2013

Dennis Sparks Reviews The Lion in Winter

Dennis Sparks Reviews The Lion in Winter

“Jungle Creatures” by Dennis Sparks
This black comedy will be playing at the Shoebox Theatre at 2110 SE 10th Ave. through January 5th, 2014.  It is written by James Goldman and directed by Elizabeth Huffman.  For more information go

The movie of this play, the late, great Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn, was quite successful a number of years ago.  O’Toole was reprising his role of King Henry II from the film Becket.  It is a black comedy in the truest sense, giving us biting wit laced with deadly desires.  To say the least, they are not very nice people.

This family and friends has more in common with George and Martha and company from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? than any historical context.  Their unions are dredged up from the depths of despair, mixed heartily with spit and spices from a moldy cupboard and served exquisitely, hot off the griddle, for our enjoyment, at this festive time of year.

The setting, costuming (Elizabeth Huffman) and dialogue is of our modern times but actually takes place in France a few hundred years ago.  England ruled much of France at that time and, of course, like any spoiled child, wanted to keep its ill-gotten gains.  War was, well…so bloody and people died, so inter-marrying and treaties were devised as an alternate means of holding onto properties.  But, like all such games, the trick was not so much to win, but to win in a classy way.  And so this family and friends are well suited to these kind of matches—they have been raised for years in such sport.

Henry (Victor Mack), England’s King, has imprisoned his wife, Eleanor (Marilyn Stacey), because she won’t give him a rich piece of land that he wants.  He has agreed to release her for the Christmas holidays, hoping to persuade her to let go of her property, which she has given to their oldest son Richard (Ricardy Charles Fabre), a brilliant military officer, who she backs for succession to the throne.  But Henry has other plans for his legacy, backing his youngest son, John (Chip Sherman), a bit of a twit, for this awesome responsibility.

Meanwhile, the middle son, Geoffrey (Joseph Gibson), a schemer, plays both ends against the middle, hoping, that when the smoke clears, he will be the default choice for this role.  But Henry must also cement relationships with the King of France, Philip II (Josh Rice), an eager novice in such games and who has had a dalliance with Richard.  So he agrees to marry off his French mistress, Alais (Clara-Liis Hillier), a fiery vixen, to Richard, so that the alliance will be secured.  Needless to say, this does not set well with her.  And Eleanor simply wants her freedom, probably to start other wars.

Such is life with the filthy rich and bored power-mongers.  As Eleanor so aptly puts it, in probably the most famous line from the play, “what family doesn’t have its up and downs.”  Indeed.  But specters from the long ago, ghosts of Christmas Pasts, also haunt these proceedings.  Henry’s former love, Rosmond; the King and Eleanor’s first-borne, now dead son, Henry; Thomas Becket; the King of France’s father, Louie; Geoffrey, Henry’s father, possible lover of Eleanor, all are proffered as the ideals.  But these warriors charge blindly ahead anyway and woe to the one who cries, “Enough!”

This only scratches the surface of the plot and character twists.  All expertly handled by Huffman, the director.  The modern setting suits very nicely the proceedings of this story, perhaps mimicking a certain Congress we love to hate.  And she has cast and massaged her team well in creating a frightening but memorable experience for the audience.  The suffocating, caged-in space bodes well the intensity of the pent-up feelings of such “jungle creatures” as these.

The acting is first-rate by all.  Mack is steely, manipulative and heartless as this King.  His intensity rarely lets down and then it is only to gain a point or two for his team.  Another powerful performance in his repertory of portrayals.  Stacey, an icon of Portland theatre, is at the top of her game as Eleanor.  She weaves in and out of intrigues, like a snake, leaving nary a track where she has been.  Her acting gives us a woman to feel sorry for but also keep at arm’s length.  Bravo.

And in Hillier you can understand how a man could “launch a thousand ships” to hold her power and beauty.  She is alluring in her bearing and direct in her feelings.  Clara-Liis gives the character a real importance to her portrayal and it telegraphs well to the audience.  A woman who loves not wisely, perhaps, but too well.  And Rice, as her countryman, adds appropriate fuel to the fire.

Fabre is loud and brash as the eldest, presenting us a man to be reckoned with–a staunch warrior.  Gibson, as the middle-heir, plays the role with a quiet power, usually in the background but always listening.  And Sherman, as in previous productions with Post5, is larger than life, playing the youngest.  He portrays this pouty brat, a spoiled child, heartless and brainless, so convincingly, that you tend to miss him when he’s not onstage.  A joy to watch.

I recommend this show.  If you do go, tell them Dennis sent you.

Read the Oregonion review of Lion in Winter here

Read the Oregonion review of Lion in Winter here

‘The Lion in Winter’ melds love, dysfunctional family holiday and a royal power struggle: review

By Carol Wells, special to The Oregonian

This family living room at Christmas has stacks of colorful packages under a festively decorated tree, and logs crackling in the fireplace. The Northwest Classical Theatre Companyproduction of the James Goldman play “The Lion in Winter” also has a family so darkly and wittily dysfunctional it is a great guilty pleasure to watch them simultaneously vie for love and threaten to murder one another. The clan in question is English royals, circa 1183, who also have the kind of clout that can determine the course of history.

That these figures are larger than life is conveyed not by period costumes, castle walls, or stately barge rides on the Thames as it was in the 1968 movie with Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Here the set and costumes are contemporary, all Pearl District condo elegance. Everything that is regal and powerful must come from the actors.

Victor Mack plays King Henry II, the aging monarch who is hosting this Christmas party to choose an heir to his throne. The play showcases his range: he is tender, scheming, and violent. Relationships guide the story, and the central one between Henry and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, played with grace by Marilyn Stacey, sizzles with the sexual tension that interlaces their power struggle.

Love and agony characterize the relationship between Eleanor and her choice for the next king, her son Richard, played by Ricardy Charles Fabre. Their scenes together take the breath away, as the two move about the living room, his character eying hers with a wariness clearly born of experience.

Director Elizabeth Huffman has added a racial component to this production: Eleanor is white; Henry is black. Like pieces on a chessboard, this visually emphasizes their opposition, but also serves to appropriately mask how alike they are. Both are powerful and brilliant, and their shared inability to love puts a family and a kingdom at risk.


When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 6

Where: Shoebox Theatre, 2110 S.E. Tenth Ave.

Tickets: $20 general admission, $18 students and seniors; 971-244-3740,

–Carol Wells

Lion in Winter production photos by Gary Norman

Read the WW Review here

Read the WW Review here

We’ll Never Be Royals

By Kaitie Todd for the Willamette Week

Northwest Classical Theatre’s production of The Lion in Winter might as well be calledGame of Thrones: Christmas Edition. Director Elizabeth Huffman has given James Goldman’s play modern scenery, an upscale living room decked out with cheerful Christmas décor. But don’t let that fool you. The story, set circa 1183, centers on King Henry II of England as he and his queen Eleanor battle over which son will inherit the throne. There’s Richard, the warrior; Jeffrey, the forgotten; and John, Daddy’s favorite and the fool, right down to his untucked shirt and rainbow-colored vest. Tensions rise and fall as brother betrays brother, mother betrays son, father betrays everyone—but the real fun comes in watching Marilyn Stacey weave Queen Eleanor’s web as deliberately and gracefully as a spider intent on a big and delicious payoff. At one moment despondent at Henry’s latest move and then smiling the next, Stacey’s performance constantly surprises, and she cries, smirks and bickers her way through the play’s most dangerous and emotional moments. All the manipulation and backstabbing can grow overwhelming in the 2½-hour runtime, but The Lion in Wintershould still tide over hungry Game of Thrones fans until the spring. 

SEE IT: The Lion in Winter is at the Shoebox Theater, 2110 SE 10th Ave., 971-244-3740. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through Jan. 5. $20.

The Oregonian Previews The Lion in Winter

The Oregonian Previews The Lion in Winter

The Lion in Winter opens at the Shoebox on Friday. The Oregonian has this preview of what’s to come in this modernized take on the 1966 Tony winning play. Join us for opening night, or grab your tickets for the holiday run!