***RECOMMENDED "Power is the only fact."
No, this is not some sound bite from a certain politician who is seeking re-election but rather one of the many rantings of a former king of England nearing the end of his reign. In James Goldman's "The Lion in Winter," currently at Court Theatre, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Director Ron OJ Parson and his assured ensemble have clearly done a comprehensively thorough textual analysis of Goldman's witty yet sardonic script, which translates to a highly entertaining bit of fun. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
It is Christmastime in 1183. King Henry II (John Hoogenakker) has recently lost his eldest legitimate son and heir apparent to the throne. His wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Rebecca Spence) has been, momentarily, released from her husband's imprisonment so that she may join him for the holiday. Their three sons are also in attendance: Richard Lionheart (Shane Kenyon), the oldest, Geoffrey (Brandon Miller) and John (Kenneth La'Ron Hamilton), the youngest. Henry's mistress (Netta Walker), a French princess, is also flitting about the castle. Henry has his sights set on John to continue his legacy, while Eleanor prefers the much more calculating and valiant Richard. Much scheming ensues as the three sons jockey for favor with their parents and strike tenuous alliances with one another. In other words, just another merrie olde Christmas at the House of Plantagenet.
Goldman took plenty of liberties with his dramatization. While it is not exactly historically accurate, it also contains many anachronisms. Perhaps the most glaring example would be Henry comparing himself to King Lear, a play that Shakespeare didn't write until over 400 years hence. For history buffs, there are several other Easter eggs to be discovered. Still, this is a very smart and well-constructed script, containing a great deal of humor as well as some genuinely heartfelt moments.
Spence as Eleanor starts out a bit stiff and icy. While chilly is one way of describing Eleanor's demeanor, Spence's portrayal takes a few scenes to settle down. Her performance is highly stylized and it takes a modern audience a few moments to adjust to that. But she excels at conveying Eleanor's righteous fury and stubborn obedience, clearly winning the audience over by the play's final act.
Supporting performances here are also very good. Miller shines as Geoffrey, the middle son who is overlooked for his intellect and misunderstood for his loyalty. Hamilton garners many laughs as the buffoonish and mentally-challenged youngest son, John. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Anthony Baldasare as Philip, King of France. Baldasare's line deliveries are truly droll and he incorporates plenty of awkward pauses and quirky traits to make for a memorable impression of the extremely young leader of France.
It's a joyous reason for celebration to be able to see the classic "The Lion in Winter" on a local stage once again. Parson's solid production has made revisiting Goldman's Tony Award-winner for Best Play worthy of a second look. Besides, who doesn't love a play whose final line of dialogue is phrased in the form of a question?
"The Lion in Winter" continues until December 3, 2023
Court Theatre is located at 5535 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL
Performances are: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at 7:30 PM/Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM
Tickets: Please visit www.CourtTheatre.org or call 773-753-4472
Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission