The Lion in Winter
by James Goldman
Directed by Cathy Kurz
November 3 - 13, 2022
First Central Congregational Church
Writer James Goldman took a page of intrigue from history, seasoned it with sparkling humor, deep treachery, and inexplicable passion to create The Lion in Winter, the deliciously rich, first course that will open Brigit Saint Brigit's 30th season. Medieval maneuvering has never been rendered with such savage delight.
“Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives!
It's 1183 and we're barbarians!”
It is indeed 1183, and the "barbarians" (in this case, strategic and well-spoken ones) are an aging Henry II, the king who ruled much of the land that now comprises France, England and beyond; Eleanor of Aquitaine, his imprisoned, indomitable queen and adversary (queen of France from age 15 to 28, queen of England from 28 forward); and their three sons, Richard (of Lionheart fame), Geoffrey (the dangerously bitter strategist), and John (the hapless, spoiled youngest). The tradition of eldest son ascending the throne had not yet been established, so the king must choose among them who will succeed. Aye, there's the rub.
While neither Henry nor Eleanor has much affection for middle child Geoffrey, thinking he's all "wheels and gears," they are in life-or-death opposition about the other two. Richard is Eleanor's best-beloved, but Henry has always resented him and favors John. In a world where rulers openly conquer land as they please, Henry is obsessed with knowing that the lands he's amassed will hold together after him. Eleanor's interest is both political and personal: if Richard becomes king, he may free her from the imprisonment Henry imposed on her ten years earlier when she led her sons in a revolt against him. But beyond that, the struggle is a mighty one because it is, in part, proxy for their inescapable attachment to each other.
“I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. We're a knowledgeable family.” Double agent or triple? Each offspring knows none of the others--or their parents--can be taken at their word even as they enter into plots with them. Each parent knows that none of the offspring can be trusted. It is, as Henry says, "a tangle."
"The hot wine steams, the yule log roars, and we're the fat that's in the fire." It's Christmas Eve--and Eleanor is visiting for the holidays. Treaties and dowry promises to the visiting French king are due; 24 hours to name a successor. If the promises are met, Richard succeeds, and Henry can't abide that--he must find a way to deceive everyone. But he's not dealing with fools, least among them, his royal partner in love and hate and love for 31 years.
“He came down from the North to Paris with a mind like Aristotle's and a form like mortal sin. We shattered the Commandments on the spot.” In the midst of all the edge-of-your-seat machinations, the play is shot through with a gold thread of intensity in the passion that Eleanor and Henry feel for each other after 3 decades of marriage and taking opposing sides in a civil war: " a man and a woman forever bound up in one another"--even when it's in opposition to what each must do to survive.
BSB's production features Delaney Driscoll as Eleanor, Eric Griffith as Henry, Jeremy Earl as Richard, and Lucas Perez-Leahy, Matt Cummins, Katt Walsh, and Austin Wright. Directed by Cathy M. Kurz and stage managed by Sabrina Kinney.
REVIEWS / AWARDS
"A work of intelligence, astringent wit, and much theatrical skill" (NYT).
"Marvelously articulate language, with humor that bristles and burns" (LA Times).
Not A Comedy/Drama: A Portmanteau Play The history of this interlude and the characters involved are epic, but it's playwright Goldman's style--his exquisite humor, trading historical formality for ingenious wit and anachronism, placing it side-by-side with intensely serious encounters--that brings a champagne-like life to the story. The humor bubbles up just when the intensity needs to be temporarily sidestepped. He's succeeded in writing a play that's lifelike in its refusal to be solely comedy or drama.
The Lion in Winter premiered on Broadway in 1966, with Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris, Harris winning a Tony Award for her portrayal of Eleanor. The play has had countless productions since then in Britain and America. It's also been adapted for film, most notably in 1968 in an especially well-received rendition by Goldman, starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, winning three Academy Awards including for Goldman and Hepburn (her third).