The Lion In Winter is fine winter fare


Who needs romance novels when one has history? While 'The Lion In Winter,' a play written by James Goldman in 1966, is about a fictional Christmas in 1183, the royal family characters had enough infidelity and intrigue to make present-day royals look chaste by comparison.

Some historical background: King Henry II of England married Eleanor of Aquitaine when he was just 19. Eleanor had annulled her marriage to King Louis VII of France just two months before marrying Henry II. The royal pair had eight children. In 1174, three of his sons, with their mother's blessing, tried to seize power from Henry II. They failed. Eleanor was imprisoned for 15 years. Meanwhile, Henry took Alais as his mistress. Alais is half-sister to King Phillip II of France, son of Eleanor's ex-husband. Oh, and did I mention that Alais is engaged to Henry II's son, Richard?

This sounds confusing, but Theatre in the Grove's presentation of 'The Lion In Winter' makes it easy to keep all the characters straight. It opens with Alais, played by Marla Leahy, talking to King Henry II (Scott Malcom), her lover at his residence in France. Eventually we're introduced to Eleanor (Jeanna Van Dyke), who's been given a prison furlough for the holidays, and her sons, Richard, (Brandon Weaver), Geoffrey, (Dan Cleveland) and John, (Breon McMullin) and King Phillip II (Tyler Buswell).

John, the youngest, is theoretically his father's favorite, while Eleanor tries to convince Richard he is her favorite. No one is fighting over Geoffrey, portrayed by Cleveland as a smart, detached opportunist.

McMullin does a good job portraying John - as comically endearing as a pimply-faced man who seldom bathes can be. Weaver and Buswell give convincing memories of their own relationship.

Leahy, as Alais, is mercurial, at times a child, at times a mistress to a king. She seems the only one with any innocence, but we know it won't last long.

Van Dyke gives a great performance as Eleanor. She is at turns regal and satirical. She realizes the havoc she and Henry have wreaked. But then, she's had plenty of time to think about it, cooling her heels imprisoned in England. Malcom's Henry wants to make sure his empire lives on. He doesn't want it carved up. But if Richard doesn't marry Alais… well, let's not get sidetracked by dowry details.

Henry and Eleanor's relationships with their sons are interesting, but it's when it's just the two of them, one can see the regard these two former lovers, now adversaries, have for each other.