The Chatham Community Players, now in its 94th Season, continues a long history of producing challenging, dramatic theater with the modern day classic, “The Lion in Winter.” This highly fictional story of the very real Plantagenet family that ruled most of Britain and France in the 12th century was written by the late James Goldman, a master of dialogue. This tale of sibling rivalry is set in the year of 1183, the time is Christmas. It details the intense love-hate relationship between King Henry II of England and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor has been imprisoned for the past ten years for leading an unsuccessful revolt against Henry. They try to out- maneuver each other to designate one of their three sons to be the heir to the throne. To call this family dysfunctional is a gross understatement. They literally are at each other’s throats (with knives), including the three sons, in their quest to control the crown. Unfortunately for Henry, Eleanor and their three surviving sons, ‘primogeniture’ (the policy that set succession as the right of the eldest son) was not formalized in 1183.
Beyond the superior dialogue of Goldman, it is the excellence of the cast that makes this production deserve four stars. Starting with Kevern Cameron who could be conducting a masterclass in acting with his powerful performance as the aging, yet very regal, King. Cameron impressed last year with his performance in The Barn Theatre’s production of ‘Inherit the Wind.’ Beyond his considerable acting talent, he is also one of our community theater’s finest directors. Perfect example was his ‘Doubt’ with Dale Monroe for the Chester Theatre Group.
The rest of the fine cast includes, a favorite from the Centenary Stage Company, Maria Brodeur as the queen, and wealthiest woman in the world, Eleanor of Aquitaine; Dominick Denucci as Richard the Lionheart, the eldest son of Eleanor and Henry II; Matt Coakley as John, the youngest son; and Scott Tyler as Geoffrey, the middle son. Plus, Shane Long as the young Philip II, King of France and Adriana Spizuoco as Alais, Philip’s sister and Henry’s lover.
Maria Brodeur’s Queen Eleanor is properly majestic (clearly more attractive than Henry’s sarcastic description of her facial faults). She is blessed with some of Goldman’s wittiest lines: For example at first meeting with Henry at the Castle in Chinon, France after ten years in prison; “Eleanor: How dear of you to let me out of prison. Henry II: It’s only for the holidays.” or later after much verbal battle; “Henry II: I marvel at you after all these years. Still like a democratic drawbridge: going down for everybody. Eleanor: At my age there’s not much traffic anymore.” Later, in a dungeon scene Eleanor sums up the tragedy of her family and war by responding to son John’s cry that his brother Richard has a knife; “Eleanor: Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little – that’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.”
The three sons are nicely cast: Dominick Denucci is a handsome Richard the Lionheart, more at home on the battlefield with a broadsword than dealing with the royal ”free for all.” Matt Coakley, new to the Chatham Playhouse, properly projects the ambitious, yet highly naive teen age son, John; Scott Tyler’s slick Geoffrey is the leading plotter of the family who cleverly manipulates John to do his bidding.
Also deserving of four stars is the director Jim Peskin and his production team, Producer Joelle Bochner, Production Coordinator Steve Ruskin, Stage Manager Kate Pierce, Scenic Designers Roy Pancirov and Robert Lukasik, Scenic Painting Andrea & Dean Sickler, Costume Designer Beverly Wand, Lighting Designer Diane Giangreco and Sound Designer Joe DeVico.
The Producer, Joelle Bochner offers a spot-on summary of the play: “There is nothing like the succession of power to get everyone’s blood boiling. This play is like 12th century version of `House of Cards’, with everyone vying for power, plotting behind each other’s backs and doing everything they can to impress those around them with their political skills.” She adds: “What a rich tapestry our director, Jim Peskin has woven, with not a single thread out of place.”
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio Sunday March 13, 2016 3 pm
Remaining Performance dates are March 18 and 19 at 8 pm. All performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham. Tickets are $25 for adults and $23 for youth/senior. Tickets can be purchased at our Box Office or Online. To access the theater’s online ticketing service. The service is available 24 hours a day, and tickets can be purchased online up until three hours prior to curtain on the day of a performance. Chatham Playhouse’s box office will begin accepting phone reservations on February 23 at (973) 635-7363. For information regarding box office hours, please call the box office number listed above.