By ELLEN FERRY.
James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter masquerades as a wickedly comedic, high-stakes battle over a royal inheritance, but when assessed honestly, plays out on stage as a lengthy family squabble. The play itself lacks narrative arc, making the teeter-totter between comedy and heavy drama feel relentlessly cyclical and altogether static. That being said, the Guthrie’s adaptation should still be praised for its spot-on casting, glorious set and delightful costuming.
The Lion in Winter portrays King Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three sons as they trample one another in pursuit of the crown. No sooner does one family member outsmart the rest than does another trounce the group anew. Eleanor of Aquitaine (played by Laila Robins) is exceptionally ruthless in her schemes for power, manipulating the emotions of her sons in shameless fashion. King Henry II (played by Kevyn Morrow) isn’t as easily beguiled, however. He proves to be quite shrewd himself, ultimately procuring a plan to avoid passing the crown to any of his sons. Murder becomes a possibility, but none of the characters can bring themselves to follow-through.
The family discord in The Lion in Winter is not entirely unlike that which can be found in modern-day families. Stripped of its 12th century backdrop, The Lion in Winter boils down to envy amongst brothers, disunion between husband and wife, and that pesky sense of familial duty that somehow holds everything together. Though not rip-roaring funny, the play was full of chuckle-worthy one-liners that spoke directly to the impending holiday season, which promises to hold a prickly family encounter or two for most of us.
Kevyn Morrow and Laila Robins made for a feisty leading duo. Torsten Johnson, Michael Hanna and Riley O’Toole could not have been more adequately cast than they were as the three snarky sons (Richard, Geoffrey and John, respectively). Each had a different chip on his shoulder; Johnson, Hanna and O’Toole communicated their individual characters’ grievances with distinct and comical flair.
The royal family’s garments were a sight to behold. Rich fabrics, fur and jewels popped against the dark, spare set. A massive, rotating tower made of wooden beams served as the palace of many rooms. Its open design gave the impression that private conversations in any given room were always taking place just under the noses of the characters in the next.
While the show itself lacks a dynamic storyline, the Guthrie’s adaptation of The Lion in Winter is a quality one.
The Lion in Winter runs from November 19th through December 31st, 2016 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis, MN 55415. Tickets are available online at http://www.guthrietheater.org or by calling the box office at 612-377-2224. Tickets start at just $20.00.