‘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.
“THE LION IN WINTER”
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, nwctc.org