Posted by lemonjelly on:
So, you think going home for the holidays is a dreadful affair, driving you to flee to Elsie's one day in, to drown your sorrows and gripe about your parents' latest demands, like asking why you haven't gotten a better job, gotten married, or bore them grandchilden? Be glad you're not the English royal family of the 1180s, because they're dealing with all that too, and on a grander scale. Plus syphilis.
The Lion in Winter is the current play by the Ensemble Theatre, written by James Goldman and directed by Jenny Sullivan. It lays out all the dysfunction and strife of an upwardly mobile and ambitious royal family, back in the day when marriages were made for political and financial reasons, and occasionally this pesky thing called "love" got in the way.
King Henry II (played by Eric Pierpont) is getting old, he loves his young mistress (Thea Brooks) and he loves his land and wealth. Stephanie Zimbalist is Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. She too loves her wealth and power, but she's pent up in an English castle prison by Henry, although allowed out to celebrate the Christmas holidays with the family at Henry's castle in Chinon, France. The two of them have successfully managed to beget a number of children, but the eldest son and heir has died, creating an opportunity for the King and Queen to name a new heir and both want to put a different son on the throne. The two are excellent opponents in the game of power, and they play their progeny cleverly against each other like pawns.
The surviving princes fall into a stereotypic hierarchy: the eldest is Richard Lionheart (Rick Cosnett), who is the brave soldier that sometimes acts before thinking and who also can produce copious amounts of saliva on demand (hint). He is favored by Eleanor to inherit the throne. The youngest is John (Daniel David Stewart), sensitive and spoiled, favored by Henry. In the middle is Geoffrey, played well by Ross Hellwig. He is the cerebral one and like every middle child, ignored by both his parents.
Along comes Philip, the young King of France (Paul David Story) and brother to Henry's mistress, demanding that Henry upholds a treaty first forged by his father, King Louis. This is the catalyst for all the wacky hijinks that rapidly ensue.
The characters worked well with each other, I hated and loved each of them as they revealed their strengths and weaknesses. It was riveting to watch, much like a glorious trainwreck. The play comes in two acts, the first is 80 minutes, the second is 40 minutes. Sounds excruciatingly long, but it goes fast! Then go home and feel smug knowing: Christmas with your own family? No problem.
The Lion in Winter runs at the Alhecama Theatre through 18 December.
914 Santa Barbara St (behind Zaytoon and La Playa Azul)
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Big ups to my friend "J-Blo" for taking the photo.