Reviewed by Susanna Wu-Pong
The Lion in Winter, a Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare production, is a play by James Goldman and directed by Jon Kretzu, is an historically modified story about the family power struggle for King Henry II’s throne. Henry, played by the powerful, dynamic, and ever-engaging David Bridgewater, has three sons that vie for the kingship through politics and intrigue, whining and manipulation. Like the other tales of political ambition from the Elizabethan era, this tale paints a complex story of the machinations of the royal family and their boundless lust for power.
This story of Henry II, however, is somewhat different from the other historic plays about the kings of this era. First, Goldman adds a refreshing and pervasive element of humor to the dialogue that tends to be absent from other plays of this kind. Second, this story is far less bloody than the other stories of the English kings. Third, this story had an interesting twist regarding Henry’s mistress, Alais, played by Richmond-favorite Audra Honaker. Though Alais was Henry’s beloved, she was also betrothed to Henry’s son, Richard, played by Alexander Sapp. Or is she betrothed to son John, played by Dixon Cashwell? Yes, this little love pentagon makes for an interesting and juicy story.
Third brother Geoffrey, played by David Janosik, and King Philip of France, brother to Alais, played by Evan Nasteff, also provide fuel for this power struggle for land and love. The relationship between Henry and Queen Eleanor lends a sad, sadistic, yet sweet (yes, sweet) undertone to the story. Eleanor, played by Melissa Johnston Price, perfectly balances the wit with the seriousness of the role she undertakes as the imprisoned Queen, devoted mother, and jilted wife.
Costumes by Anna Bialkowski, lighting by Michael Jarett, and set design and painting by Joshua Bennett and Christina Delli Santi, respectively, set an authentic tone and backdrop to this sad but funny tale.
The Lion in Winter, though a tamer and family friendlier version of others of its kind, is long at just over two-and-a-half hours hours. However, returning to the VMFA’s Leslie Cheek Theater after a too-long hiatus makes the trip to see this production from Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare even more worthwhile.
The Lion in Winter runs through February 28. Go here for tickets and showtimes: The Lion in Winter