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BROOKFIELD — The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts (TBTA) is taking a long look back to a time when intrigue and deception were in every corner, nook, and closet of King Henry II’s castle. This very fine production of James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter is rife with the machinations of its characters who connive and conspire to gain power.
It is Christmas in the castle, and King Henry II (Bob Lussier) has released his wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Vicki Sosbe), for the festivities. The queen has been in prison for a decade on charges that she tried to have her husband killed. The queen returns to her palace to find Henry deeply smitten with the lovely and nubile Alais (Erin Shaughnessy), a young woman the queen has raised as her own, and it shows.
The palace is not only preparing a holiday celebration for the reunited family, but the king is also deeply immersed in the process of choosing an heir from among his three sons, Richard Lionheart (John Zanowiak), Geoffrey (Ryan Wenke) or his youngest John (Nico Appicella), each deeply flawed in his own way.
Eleanor is rooting for Richard, the eldest, enlisting the support of Geoffrey, and turning a cold shoulder to John, whom Henry is endorsing for the role. Vying for the throne himself, Geoffrey uses whatever means he can conjure to promote himself.
Circling this family fiasco is King Philip (Patrick Kelly), brother to Alais and ruler in his own right. He toys with the family as they climb over each other in pursuit of the crown.
Observing the antics as they care for the castle and its residents are two squires (Ron Malyszka and David Jurman), as well as a beatific lady-in-waiting (Lou Okell).
As the powerful, passionate, and devious couple, Vicki Sosbe and Bob Lussier are superb. As queen and mother, Ms Sosbe gives awesome weight to her power and potential, while providing no shortage of snarky commentary. She layers her portrayal of this historic figure to fully realize her intellect, ambition, wit, and dark side.
Mr Lussier reveals the depth of emotion in a king facing hard choices while in a constant state of conflict. His despair and desire for peace at home and abroad are in stark contrast with the requirements of his job, in his time.
War was the diplomatic resolution to every challenge, and murder an option among family and friends. This talented actor provides Henry with a growl and gentility, revealing the a depth of humanity cloaked in necessary bravado.
Playing the three sons, Messers Zanowiak, Wenke, and Apicella imbue their characters with the distinctive qualities which enable their deception and make them convincing. They play well off each other, putting royal pressure on their sibling rivalry. Much hangs in the balance for them.
The sweet and pliable to a point Alais is charmingly portrayed by Erin Shaughnessy. Her character has an ethereal quality and she does an excellent job of giving her both a nurturing essence with just enough defiance to keep her in the arms of the king.
Ron Malyszka, David Jurman, and Lou Okell play their silent roles elegantly and efficiently.
The staging and direction of this piece has been executed well by Director Jane Farnol; the characters are each distinct and multidimensional. Through many scenes and set changes, the action remains smooth and uninterrupted.
The costumes are period perfection adding to the atmosphere, as does the set.
This historically fictional play of medieval mayhem and family feuding is written to entertain and it does. This a riveting display of superb theater. Do travel to Brookfield and come share some brandywine with these royals. Get a taste of a long ago time which seems so familiar. It is an opportunity not to be missed.
The production of The Lion in Winter, which is being presented at TBTA through special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc, continues through March 24. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm, and Sunday afternoons at 2.
Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 for students, available at the box office or online at brookfieldtheatre.org.
The theater is at 182 Whisconier Road, behind Brookfield Library.