‘The Lion in Winter’ roars in Chula Vista
By Carol Davis
CHULA VISTA, California —James Goldman’s 1966 Broadway play, The Lion In Winter premiered at the Ambassador Theatre. It was quickly made into a movie in 1968. Based on Goldman’s play, the audiences ate up the movie and Audrey Hepburn took home an Oscar for her excellent portrayal of the conniving yet somewhat neglected wife of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The play was revived again in 1999. From all accounts, the movie version was more successful then when the play was first mounted on Broadway. While the characters lived during the time frame of the action (1183) and the depictions of the characters appear to be accurate and their destinies follow the paths indicated in the play; the dialogue is pure conjecture, and fiction.
Now in an engaging and oft times delightfully fun-filled production at OnStage Theatre, the offspring and wife of the King of England are plotting and conspiring to see who will be the next in line to rule over his Empire that stretches from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees. It isn’t pretty but it surely is fun to watch and keep score on the principals, Eleanor (Sandy Hotchkiss) and her once bigger-than-life husband, Henry II (Steve Murdock) as they spar with words, innuendo and accusations that cut deeper than any sword.
The time is Christmas 1183 and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who has been held prisoner in the tower since 1173 has been brought to the castle for the holiday where she is reunited with her three sons and estranged husband and his mistress. It is here and now that the family will decide on an heir to the throne.
And let the games begin.
Bottom line is that every one of the players, from Eleanor to Henry to their three surviving sons, Geoffrey (James Steinberg), Richard (Chris Fonseca) and John (Morgan Hollingsworth) has an idea and a scheme as to who will be the next in line to succeed their father and husband.
Throw in Henry’s childlike squeeze, the v e r y young Alais (Devon Hollingsworth), whom the Queen raised since a child, and her step-brother Phillip (Osmond Arnesto) the next in line to be King of France and you have an assortment of cutthroat aristocrats acting like alley cats ready to pounce on anyone stepping out of their territorial bounds. O.P. Hadlock, who directed, had to have fun with this one. (Hadlock is also credited for set design)
All three sons could have come from different sets of parents, they are that varied in personalities, looks and disposition. Morgan Hollingsworth is John, the youngest at seventeen and most childlike and spoiled, and somewhat slow witted. The young Hollingsworth is perfectly suited as the unruly childlike king figure whoo will ultimately go on to become King.
Geoffrey, the middle son, is the only one who seems to like Geoffrey the most. Neither of his parents is fond of him. In fact, they really don’t even like him. He’s deceitful, a plotter and schemer and will work any side to his advantage. His views shift as the sands depending on which of the other brothers will keep him in their court. Unfortunately, Steinberg’s Geoffrey is a little out of place in this court not just because he is the outsider but because his lackluster body language shows us little or no energy around his character and what he is actually capable of doing.
Chris Fonseca’s Richard is the real king pin in the bidding wars. He is the oldest, fiercest, famous warrior and Eleanor’s favorite. He already has Aquitaine from her and uses that as a bargaining tool as does Henry. This Richard, however, is pretty tame considering that he will go on to be dubbed ‘Richard The Lion Heart’ but does give a credible performance.
Devon Hollingsworth is a lovely contrast between the aging Eleanor and the youthful Alias, but she is too young and lacks the experience to be a believable threat to Eleanor even as Henry pledges his love to and for her. And while her relationship with Henry is a big deal to them, she proves to be pretty ineffective going up against a master craftswoman like Eleanor.
Steve Murdock’s Henry II is appropriately vigorous, physically attractive, sharp and remarkably witty. He roars like a lion, albeit a somewhat worn out lion. His favorite to succeed him is John and he makes no bones about it to Eleanor. He and Eleanor punch and counter punch insults to a fault but neither scores a perfect ten as they abuse and belittle each other.
You can see there is still a latent and somewhat comfortable affection between the two although both will say it is conjured to win points. After all he could have had her killed for staging an uprising against him. Murdock has a strong presence and convincing ways but at times appears his roars fall on deaf ears as he has a tendency to look away from his adversaries just as he goes in for the kill.
The real force in this production is Sandy Hotchkiss. Her Eleanor is alive, conniving, smart, forceful and calculating. She is able to take on all her sons, play her husband like a tight drum and still convince her young ward Alais, now Henry’s mistress, that in spite of everything that she cares for her. That she has the best lines in Goldman’s amusing play is yet another ace in the hole for her and she lives it beautifully and with grace.
With so much overt disingenuousness going on in this little romp keeping score isn’t that difficult, as everyone in character throughout is predictable. Well, watch out for a few unexpected twists with Richard and Alais (pronounced Alice). Still, following their thought processes is a wonderful exercise in paying attention and enjoying this chess game close up and personal. That in turn proves to be a satisfying evening of theatre.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through Sept 15th
Organization: OnStage Productions
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 291 Third Avenue, Chula Vista, CA 91910
Ticket Prices: start at $17.00
Davis is a San Diego based theatre critic. She may be contacted at email@example.com
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=30573