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The Lion in Winter (Review)

Manic production mars Cincy Shakespeare's season opening production

By Tom McElfresh · September 14th, 2009 · Onstage
Imagine the result if Noel Coward had written King Lear. Imagine the savagery that families reserve for their most bitter internecine battles but verbalized in the lilting, wit-lit language of drawing-room comedy. That’s the effect of The Lion in Winter, the James Goldman script that stumbled on Broadway in 1966 but has since become a staple with regional, university and community theaters.

Now it’s opening Season 16 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC) with seven most familiar and ordinarily persuasive performers directed by artistic guru Brian Isaac Phillips.

It’s 1183. Henry II — King of England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and most of France — gathers together a Christmas party that is certain to produce fireworks: his scheming wife (Eleanor of Aquitaine), his rebellious sons (Richard the Lionheart; angry, overlooked Geoffrey; and bumptious John), his current mistress (French princess Alais) and the French King (Philip Capet).

His doomed purpose: Cement the succession, soothe wounded ambitions and settle bloody conflicts that divide the family.

In Act 2, Sherman Fracher (as Eleanor) lets her hair down — figuratively and actually. And Bruce Cromer (as Henry) really gets his dander up. That’s when the production finally stops chattering and scattering and turns into a tight, merciless slugfest. Act 1 is a mesh of cross-purpose stratagems that protagonists take up, try on and discard. The production never quite weaves these threads into unified forward motion.

Phillips, Fracher, Cromer, Christopher Guthrie (Richard), Josh Stamoolis (Geoffrey), Billy Chace (John), Hayley Clark (Alais) and Jeremy Dubin (Philip) have all done more felicitous work. Of the sons, Stamoolis is strongest in the most straightforward role. Chace’s buffoonery is seriously misplaced.

Sara Watson’s clumsy lighting leaves faces in shadow at inappropriate times. Lex van Blommestein’s set is boringly symmetrical.

Not, altogether, CSC’s most auspicious launch.

THE LION IN WINTER runs through Oct. 11 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.



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