Ye olde dysfunctional family

The Lion in Winter

Written by James Goldman
Directed by Matthew B. Baker
Paper Moon Players
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
2635 E. 23rd St. (between Voorhies Ave. and Ave. Z)
Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn (718/859-7482)
Non-union production (closes May 23)
Review by Elias Stimac

There's a really good reason James Goldman's vivid, vicious drama The Lion in Winter is so often revived on stage (and is an enduring movie classic, to boot) -- it's really good. The Paper Moon Players did Goldman proud with its latest incarnation, presented at the intimate Emmanuel Episcopal Church venue.

The play is a hearty brew boiling over with the embroiled lives of a royally unhappy family, with equal parts of King Lear and Les Liaisons Dangereuses stirred in for good measure. Henry II (Raymond O. Wagner) is the powerful, persuasive, plotting King of England, circa 1183. He has built up his kingdom and is a force to be reckoned with. He has even kept the French at bay. Now if he can only handle his own clan. His wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, (Jerie Clowes) is currently being treated as a prisoner, and his three sons are chomping at the bit over who will inherit the crown. Then there's the youthful King of France (Mark A. Keeton) knocking at the gate with threats of war, and a sweet young maiden (Myra Thibault) who is promised to one of his boys but whom Henry claims for his own.

While it's not clear whether Henry will be able to control who succeeds him on the throne, one thing is sure -- Goldman's unpredictable and unnerving script takes audiences on a roller-coaster ride throughout.

Matthew B. Baker gripped the directorial reins and maneuvered expertly through the play's winding plot machinations and mischievous mind games. Baker's casting was also inspired, showcasing an ensemble of talented performers. Wagner and Clowes ruled the stage with daunting determination, and yet found moments to display their characters' vulnerability and wit as well. Keeton was a deliciously detestable King Philip, while Thibault made a wonderfully winsome Princess Alais. As the three kings-to-be, the work of Denis J. Lanza, Rob Bellsey, and Gerard McHugh was much to be admired. The actors portrayed the siblings with cutthroat abandon and comical quirkiness.

Antoinette Bianco and Stuart Freeman transported viewers back in time with their sound design and musical selections (there was even a bit of "Greensleeves" thrown in at intermission). So did Laura Kleeman with her period-perfect costumes, and the castle setting complete with rolling bed chamber and movable stone wall, courtesy of scenic designer Raymond O. Wagner.

 Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2004 Elias Stimac