Dramaworks' 'Lion in Winter' reveals royal conflict with wit, heart

Review

Dramaworks' 'Lion in Winter' reveals royal conflict with wit, heart

Dec 20 2013
Jan Sjostrum | Palm Beach Daily News

Figuring out where you stand as a member of King Henry II's family in The Lion in Winter is rather like standing on a pond of cracking ice. You never know when the next step will land you in deadly waters. The witty, emotionally savvy production of James Goldman’s comic drama at Palm Beach Dramaworks doesn’t give any road maps for survival. But it is a thoroughly engaging study of the workings of one of the most dysfunctional families in history. Director William Hayes skillfully maintains the balance between comedy and pathos as Henry; his estranged wife, Eleanor; and their sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John, face off in a battle over who will inherit the aging Henry’s crown and vast empire during a tempestuous Christmas reunion in 1183... C. David Johnson’s wily Henry is always one step ahead of his antagonists, but his pain is evident through the cracks in his well-worn armor. Tod Randolph masterfully navigates the contrasts in Eleanor’s complex personality... That they’re wretched parents is obvious in the tortured sons they’ve produced, whom they unabashedly use as pawns in their war against one another. Richard, played as an overgrown boy by Chris Crawford, flails around impulsively threatening violence. Geoffrey, in a deliciously oily portrayal by Cliff Burgess, switches sides depending on which way the wind blows. John, played with clumsy brilliance by Justin Baldwin, is too stupid to know if there’s even a wind. Watching from the sidelines are King Philip of France, a 17-year-old royal manipulator in training smoothly played by Pierre Tannous, and Alais, Philip’s sister and Henry’s too-young mistress, fetchingly portrayed by Katherine Amadeo. Michael Amico’s magical set combines stone-like castle walls with a central revolving platform that seamlessly zips from scene to scene. Brian O’Keefe’s period costumes and Ron Burns’ moody lighting help deepen the spell. The Lion in Winter deploys the qualities that distinguish the best of Dramaworks’ production – intelligence, artfulness and heart.