The Lion in Winter

lion-in-winterOctober 16, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26,31, November 1 and 2.
"Treachery, lechery, and traitorous behavior. What family doesn't have its ups and downs?"
Full of sharp swords and sharper tongues, The Lion In Winter is the 12th century's equivalent of the Jerry Springer Show. It is Christmas eve, 1183. Meeting together for the holidays are Henry II, his mistress, his three sons, the King of France and finally his wife, Eleanor, who has been jailed for treason for 10 years. What follows is a dysfunctional 12th century family reunion worthy of our day and age. If The Lion In Winter teaches us anything, it is that years and kingdoms come and go, but family squabbles stay the same. And you thought your family's Christmas was bad.


Henry: Dave Hendrick
Eleanor: Teri Sweeney
Richard: William Harper
Alais: Rebecca Dennard
Geoffrey: Brandon Shearin
John: Mark Dasinger
Phillip: Joshua Huffman

Director: Jennifer Martin

"The Lion in Winter is deftly directed and intelligently delivered..."
-Michael Howley, Montgomery Advertiser Review


Review: Royal gathering lacks action, but fights with words, schemes
By Michael P. Howley • October 20, 2008

There are many challenges to producing "The Lion in Winter," James Goldman's 1966 Tony and Academy Award-winning bombastic, witty and often melodramatic history play showing at the Way Off Broadway Theatre in Prattville.
Goldman's fictionalized account of an 1183 Christmas Eve gathering of the Plantagenet clan, which is trying to determine both its dynastic inheritance and a future map of Europe, creates a severely dysfunctional family whose personality conflicts and shifts of alliances provide an evening of theatrical entertainment.
King Henry II (Dave Hendrick) has kept his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Teri Sweeney), a prisoner for 10 years after she and her sons rebelled against him. She is trotted out for the holidays to provide a public image of a happy family, though Henry has other thoughts in mind. He needs an alliance with France that can best be secured by marrying one of his sons to his own mistress, Alais (Rebecca Dennard), the half-sister of the French King Phillip (Joshua Huffman), and by Eleanor giving up certain districts of France that she owns.
Their brood of sons -- Richard (William Harper), Geoffrey (Brandon Shearin) and John (Mark Dasinger) -- each want to be the next king, and can be counted on to use whatever means serves his purpose, especially when they all realize how their parents are manipulating them like pawns.
Director Jennifer Martin deftly guides her cast through the intricacies of the plot so that the story is told with absolute clarity, making the audience's knowledge of medieval English and European history of secondary concern, no matter how many liberties the playwright takes with historic accuracy.
Unfortunately, there are some dramatic sacrifices made along the way.
The machinations of the characters, vying for position and hunger for winning at any cost, warrant a lot more physical activity than the rather slow and often static and tentative behavior of the combatants, who frequently block one another from the audience's view.
Though most of the dialogue is intelligently delivered, not much appears to be at risk for characters whose very lives depend on the outcome. Wit, charm, irony, innuendo, and clever turns of phrase are the most dangerous of weapons that emerge from Goldman's script, making characters score points or capitulate, while the real knives and swords are rendered ineffectual.
Most successful in utilizing the bantering dialogue is Sweeney as Queen Eleanor. As she switches from serious to ironic, and quickly dismisses almost all opponents with a withering glance or maternal smile and a pointed delivery of scathing comments, she emerges as the one combatant most seriously in charge. Even the position of king has little effect when Hendrick's blustering and melodramatic character appears to hesitate at all turns of the dialogue.
Something unspoken binds the king and queen. Perhaps it is their years together and apart. Perhaps it is the thrill of periodic verbal combat. This is a marriage that favors cunning politics over love as the center of family life, and the Way Off Broadway Theatre reminds us that over the centuries, much remains the same.
Michael P. Howley is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. He teaches English and humanities at Alabama State University and serves on the Board of Directors of the Alabama Conference of Theatre and the Southeastern Theatre Conference. He can be reached at