By Lynn Geyer
It is seldom that an audience can be so enthralled with a theatrical production that it loses sense of time.
“The Lion in Winter,” by James Goldman, the current production at The Lakewood Playhouse, has done just that. This is a long play – two and a half hours, including a 15-minute intermission. However, even though the first act is more than one hour and 20 minutes long, one hardly notices the length because it is so superbly done.
“Lion” is the story of English King Henry II, who finds himself realizing his mortality and understanding that he must choose to which of his three sons he will leave his throne. His first choice is his youngest and most favored son, John. However, his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is in favor of Richard Lionheart, their eldest son. Neither parent thinks much of the middle son Geoffrey, which Geoffrey plans to use to his advantage when trying to possess the throne for himself.
If this isn’t enough of a dilemma, add the fact that the French princess Alais is included in the inheritance and that she and Henry are lovers. This quadrangle is closely watched over by Alais’ brother, the French king, Philip.
The action takes place in Henry’s castle in France which is designed by Blake R. York. York has captured the true feel of a bleak, medieval castle; one can almost smell the dank walls. Kristin Zetterstrom’s lighting adds to the 12th Century feel of the production.
Alex Lewington has done a perfect job with the costumes, all of which appear to be expertly made by hand in the fashion of the period.
A director once said that 80 percent of a successful show is in the casting. Director John Munn has topped that 80 percent by assembling an excellent cast to display his directorial prowess.
Dylan Twiner is Philip, the French king. He plays him with a knowing supercilious smile upon his lips, like a cat with a yellow feather clutched between his teeth.
Mike McGrath is John. The young thespian shows good understanding of his role, which he plays as a cross between a worthy adversary and a spoiled child almost ready to throw a tantrum if he is passed over for what he thinks is rightly his.
Kat Christensen is Alais the added prize to the winner of the throne. Christensen is alluring. The young woman is a consummate actor who, like fine wine, promises to only get better with age.
Alex Smith is the conniving Geoffrey. Smith is wonderful with tongue firmly planted in cheek to round out his character’s true nature.
Bryan K. Bender is Richard. Bender has proved his acting prowess in past productions but never any better than this one; the actor surpasses himself.
Joseph Grant is Henry and Syra Beth Puett is Eleanor. Accolades on these two would be like gilding the lily.
Grant is more than impressive as the aging king. His understanding of Henry’s quandary is apparent as Grant delivers his lines from his heart, his mind and his body.
Puett is unsurpassed. Simply put, she is Eleanor – in all her candor – while toying with Alais, empowering Richard and in her love-hate relationship with Henry. Puett spares not her emotions; she bares all and turns in a superlative performance.
All these competent actors are pulled together by the directorial craftsmanship of John Munn proving it takes more than just good casting to make good theatre.
“The Lion in Winter” continues at the Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit Depot, through May 15 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. There is an 8 p.m. Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday April 28.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
One final note on a couple of non-actors is this production. They are listed in the program as Servant One and Servant Two. In reality, Leigh Duncan and Devon McDonald-Kelley are the unsung stage crew, costumed in character, who dress and redress the set during dim-outs. They are equally professional in their duties and like most servants go without well deserved recognition.