Lion in Winter at Elite Theatre Co
By Jim Spencer and Shirley Lorraine
Tempers flare at Christmas time in a stark and drafty castle in 1183 as King Henry II of England, and his queen, Eleanor of Acquitaine, parry and thrust in an ongoing verbal joust about which of their sons will succeed the king who, at age 50, is facing the winter of his years.
Currently playing at Oxnard’s Elite Theatre Company, The Lion in Winter is a drama laced throughout with subtle humor that weaves a tale loosely based on historical facts about the turbulent relationships among King Henry II, his estranged and incarcerated wife Eleanor, and their three sons – two of whom do eventually become king of England.
The story’s principals are King Henry II (Alan Waserman), Eleanor (Vivien Latham), and their sons – Richard (Adam Womack), Geoffrey (Eric McGowan) and John (Trent Trachtenberg). Complicating matters considerably are the presence of Henry’s mistress Alais (Morgan Bozarth) and a visiting Prince Philip of France (Alex Czajka).
Waserman and Latham are standouts as the royal couple, continually sparring and obviously enjoying their love-hate relationship to the hilt. Both are fascinating to watch as their stoic countenances contrast the emotions beneath the surface. Their scenes together are nothing short of electrifying.
The three sons are a mixed lot. Adam Womack as Richard (Later to gain the throne as Richard the Lionhearted) gives a solid performance with bluster and depth. Geoffrey, the forgotten son who never seems to catch a break, is well, if underplayed, by Eric McGowan. His frustration at being overlooked gives him an edgy quality. A fairly newcomer to the stage, Trent Trachtenberg imbues the teenaged John with just the right amount of petulance and angst befitting the eager, but immature, prince.
Cast as the young Prince Philip of France, Alex Czajka provides an admirable accent, although he speaks quite rapidly. The pace, coupled with the unfamiliar accent, makes him difficult to understand at times. Nonetheless, he gives the character crafty and sly qualities that emphasize his cunning.
Rounding out the cast in the pivotal role of the mistress Alais, Morgan Bozarth is understated and quiet, all the while showing her emotional attachment and support to the much older King. She knows that she’s a bargaining chip in the race for the next King as she will become the wife of whomever is chosen, a fate she does not face lightly nor with pleasure.
The production is under the expert hand of the Elite’s artist director Tom Eubanks. He has been down the road to the castle before, having directed the play for the Ojai Art Center in 2000. As before Eubanks has enlisted the talents of Celtic harpist George Miller to provide authentic musical interludes throughout.
Ventura County has seen several fine productions of Lion over the years and this one ranks high on the list.
Lion in Winter plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until November 22 at the Elite Theatre Company, 2731 S. Victoria Ave., Oxnard Harbor. Tickets: $15-18. (805) 483-5118 or www.elitetheatre.org.