The Lion in Winter

Walking through The Little Lake Theatre Company’s stage felt warm and traditional, like going to your grandparents’ for the holidays. Torches lighted the area and gave an overall homey impression and got me in the mood for an old-fashioned Christmas play. What I saw, however, was a far cry from the usual cheery mood of a familial holiday romp. James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter follows King Henry’s family of liars and cheats as he endeavors to swindle each of them into assuring his legacy to keep England’s power dominant after his death. Henry (Everett Lowe) begins the play teasing and flirting with Alais (Amanda DeConciliis Weber), who is set to marry one of his sons. Henry and Alais declare their love for one another despite this small issue, and Henry begins to set the pieces for his plot to ensure his favorite and youngest son, John, (Shawn White), will be named king after Henry’s death. However, Henry’s wife, Eleanor (Patricia Cena Fuchel), has different plans. After being secluded to a separate tower, her punishment for attempting to murder Henry, Eleanor is determined for her favorite of their sons, Richard (J. Dawson Laabs), to become king. We find that the conniving nature of Henry and Eleanor has certainly been passed down to their children, and plots are foiled as quickly as they begin, creating ever-changing strategies for the entire household.

(top row, left to right) Jeff Johnston, J. Dawson Laabs, Shawn White, Everett Lowe, James Hartley (bottom row, left to right) Amanda DeConciliis Weber and Patricia Cena Fuchel

Lowe as Henry is a master of his craft, both as the patriarchal powerhouse in the play and the aging lord of the country. In spirit, cunning, and genuine emotion he is matched beautifully by Fuchel as Eleanor. The two weave the tale like spiders in interconnecting webs, creating a gorgeously sticky-situation for their children. Fuchel and Lowe dance a dangerous number with aplomb, as likely to embrace as they are to backstab. Fuchel delivers a hearty performance as queen mother, harsh in her dealings and yet with the finesse of uncertainty. Her children are swayed by her; despite her past discretions, she’s able to convince them of her love. Weber’s Alais felt to be the only reasonable person in the play, not driven by power or legacy; she longs for the simple happiness of a young woman in love. At the same time, she understands her situation and the delicate line she must toe. Weber struck that balance with a sharp wit as well as a gentle touch.

(Left to right) Shawn White, Jeff Johnston, J. Dawson Laabs, Patricia Cena Fuchel, and Everett Lowe

The one disappointment this show faces resides in its scene changes. The length between scenes drags the show and disrupts the mounting tension so expertly crafted by these actors. Though the dressing on stage was nice to look at, I don’t think every single scene warrants an entirely new setup, bring in tables and shifting chairs in a small space with so few stagehands. It worked well in the moments where the actors dressed the set, draping garland around torch posts and integrating a set dressing into the story. That moment, in particular, felt lovely, and perhaps more shifting of set in the scene would have had a similar feel to that of the time-consuming blackouts.

The Lion in Winter was fun to watch; I enjoyed the bickering family as it was at once familiar and strange. Familiar in that we all have experienced a tense holiday-time family argument, and odd in that these arguments were over land and power.

Catch the final shows through November 17th.  For tickets and more information click here. 

Photos courtesy of Carina Iannarelli

Rachelmae Pulliam is a recent Pitt grad who has been obsessed with the world of theatre since she saw the PBS recording of CATS in the 90s. She graduated with degrees in theatre arts and English writing with a focus on poetry; ask her about her chapbook, Full Stop. She’d love to get your feedback. When not writing for PITR, Rachelmae can be found onstage, behind the work desk of one of her jobs, lounging with her cats, or trying to get around to finishing that one painting. She loves theatre with her whole soul, and feels privileged to experience it in Pittsburgh, a city where she thinks people are emboldened to take risks, where you can always find something new.

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