Production savors treachery in air


The hearts of Anne Arundel Anglophiles must be pitty-patting like mad.

Not only has the Bard's "Hamlet" opened at St. John's College, but the granddaddy of all British historical dramas, James Goldman's "The Lion in Winter," is ensconced at the Pasadena Theatre Company's Baldwin Hall through July 29.

Set in a French castle of Henry II, king of England, during Christmas week of 1183, "Lion in Winter" is one of the most riveting melanges of fact and fantasy ever penned. Henry, aging and dissatisfied with the prospect of his sons as potential kings, is caught up in a web of intrigue that threatens his kingdom with war.

Adding to his woes is his cunning, imperious queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who has fomented so much discontent in Henry's kingdom that the king has placed her under house arrest.

But Eleanor is summoned to Henry's Christmas court as are their sons; Richard the Lion-Hearted, Geoffrey and John.

Complicating matters is the visit of King Philippe of France, who comes insisting that his sister Alais either be married to Henry's designated heir or have the terms of her dowry revoked. Alas for Alais, she is also Henry's mistress.

Yes, treachery is in the air at Chinon castle, as are love, hate, cowardliness, sodomy, fratricide and enough dirty family laundry make "Mommie Dearest" look like "The Donna Reed Show."

Foremost among Pasadena Theatre's assets is Heather Tuckfield, whose Eleanor is so agile, regal and palpably intelligent that one wonders how Henry could possibly have locked her away. But when she bares her stinger, she does so with a vengeance that all but vindicates her husband's judgment.

Ms. Tuckfield's characterization is truly remarkable, but at times her wheels spin a bit too fast. I'd like to see her plot more deliberately and take more time to revel in the havoc she wreaks.

The other major attraction is Kevin Wallace as Richard, the cutthroat crusader who will stop at nothing to be king.

Also appealing is Scott Nichols as Philippe. A bit more machismo might be in order, but this teen-age king is not to be trifled with.

Elsewhere, there are problems.

Alais, Henry's lover who becomes a pawn in this 12th-century power struggle, is suitably beautiful, but Laura Stafford imbues her with only a fraction of the requisite melancholy.

Erik Delfosse is nowhere near the Machiavellian weasel Geoffrey must be.

Charlie Maloney's Henry is also problematic. He projects very well. In the wedding confrontation with Richard, he's truly excellent. Elsewhere, though, he's more teddy bear than lion; kvetchy, buffoonish and much too quick to play for a laugh.

In fact, director Jane Wingard has turned much of the play into a search for yuks, even going so far as to bill the play as a "comedy" on the program. No way.

Pronunciations and accents come by way of Britain, France and Dundalk, and the costuming is sometimes laughable. In her second act housecoat, the French princess looks more like Alice of Kramden than Alais de France.

But despite such lapses of taste, it's hard not to like the production. This is truly a remarkable play and the extraordinary Eleanor dominates the Baldwin Hall stage much as she dominated the state of Anglo-French relations 800 years ago.

"The Lion in Winter" is performed at Baldwin Hall in Millersville today, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, July 23, 27, 28 and 29.

Call 923-7687 for ticket information.

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