Chicago Theatre Review
The Holly and the Iron
The Lion in Winter at the Promethean Theater Ensemble
Politics, murder, witty dialog, fornication, dysfunctional families; when it comes to sellable stories The Lion in Winter leaves the likes of House of Cards and Empire in the dust. The distillation of James Goldman of the turbulent reign of Henry II (Brian Parry) and his sometime Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Elaine Carlson) shows these rulers of the first British Empire celebrating christmas. Henry, with his mistress Alais (Heather Smith), feeling his years upon him and decides brings his wife out from prison and summon his three sons Richard (Jared Dennis), Geoffrey (Nick Lake) and John (Tom Murphy) as well as Philip (Evan Johnson) the son of his old enemy the King of France. The issue on the table: royal succession. Henry favors John, Eleanor favors Richard, Geoffrey favors Geoffrey, and no one particularly cares what Alais thinks. And so, with kingdoms in their hands and old wounds in their hearts everyone sets to undermining everyone else. All fun and games, until somebody gets executed for treason.
To put The Lion in Winter in context you don’t to be an expert on the rough and tumble period of Medieval English History between the sinking of the White Ship to the signing of the Magna Carta, but it certainly helps. There’s a lot of old mud slung about, from young Henry, the eldest child recently dead of dysentery, to Rosalind De Clifford Henry’s other great love, dead under mysterious circumstances, to Thomas a Beckett and a whole bunch of who started what insurrection, but the general picture of who wants what is clear enough without text books being cracked open and cheat sheets consulted. The real joy of the play is in it’s modernity, the zest and pop and old broadway charm of fast dialog the witticisms and one liners coming a mile a minute.
You are a very smart theater goer indeed if you can decipher who’s “on top” of the royal rugby scrum, but it’s not a show that requires much in the way of puzzle solving. Just keep an open ear and everything will sort itself out. Some in the cast are more apt at making the story clear than others. Parry has a talent for delivering the zingers but have a hard time connecting with his fellow royals, or getting a run on the whiplash turns. Lake possess the smoothness that carries across both unflappable comedy and scheming dangerousness. But it is Carlson who truly soars. Her Eleanor not only holds the lions share of jokes and delivers them with royal flair but cracks open like an egg to expose her scared underbelly of love and longing. It is a superb role superbly rendered.
Reviewed by Ben Kemper
Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 2, second floor. 2936 N. Southport Ave (near the Southport Brown Line stop)
Thru-Sat 7:30, Sunday 2, Monday, 7.
$24 adults, Seniors $19 Students/Children $14.
For more information visit TheaterinChicago.com