Written by Alina Mae Wilson
New way, new day, new play—new things abound. I had not seen this play before. Although the name is something I’ve heard often enough. Costa Mesa Playhouse is currently running The Lion in Winter –an impressive title if ever there was one. (The Chronicles of Narnia can just step aside because the war of the titles is over). The storyline is about a king and his captive queen living in a castle while their three sons argue and scheme to inherit the throne. It’s a basic story with what turns out to be some great characters, but the acting is not as impressive.
We meet the royal family at Christmas time in 1183. King Henry is holding his wife Queen Eleanor hostage in a tower to prevent her from waging war. Her only excursions are the rare and special occasions requiring her presence–such as needing to be paraded before the public on Christmas Day. Although Henry favors the pubescent John as heir apparent, his elder sons Richard and Geoffrey resent both their obnoxious younger brother and seemingly uncaring father. Eleanor’s seemingly passive presence is soon belied when we watch her political influence extend beyond her chambers and into a complex chess game with multiple players. Meanwhile the teenaged King Philip of France simmers in spite while plotting to take over Henry’s kingdom.
I appreciate this theatre’s atmosphere. There’s just a spaciousness that should be respected. There is ample parking just outside the theatre. The seats are comfortable enough, and the set up of the theatre itself is excellent. Having been to the Costa Mesa Playhouse before I was expecting something a bit less elaborate, so I felt a bit surprised walking in to see a castle interior that appears to actually be made of stone. With a burning fireplace and walls that move during scene transitions, the whole thing is very well done, dare I say it, professional grade.
Sadly the same cannot be said about the acting –not across the board anyway. Jenny McGlinchey steals the show as Queen Eleanor. She’s convincingly affectionate while delightfully coy–just as Eleanor should be. Granted the script is written well enough to leave us guessing as to the motives of several characters, but McGlinchey is the performer who truly delivers the whole package of sincerity and overt charm. Her younger sons are another story. They have so much dialogue and back story committed to their personalities, yet they don’t truly deliver the entertainment. Young John has some truly funny lines written for him, but he doesn’t really deliver them that well. Sometimes he yells when he should be soft, or he talks without considering the message of his words. He does not seem to fully understand the innuendo or various other bits of potential in the lines he has been given, and it comes across as though he hasn’t had time to think about his performance in-depth– as though he is still in the “memorize the script” stage of rehearsal. Middle brother Geoffrey is definitely better about knowing his characterization, but it would be nice if his performance was more than one big gimmick. At some point director Timothy P. Thorn should have told him there are other ways to act conniving besides rubbing your hands together.
The cast’s performances are skewed, but the fact remains that this is a well-written show. If you have seen The Lion in Winter (film or play) and loved it, you should probably hold off on seeing this production. If you are new to the story and want to see a play this Friday… sure, why not.
August 28th – September 20th, 2015
Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm.
Sunday afternoons at 2:00 pm.
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