Chilly Family Relations in ‘Lion in Winter’


“The Lion in Winter” has all the trappings of Elizabethan drama--kings big on swords and oratory, princes ready for scheming and queens prepared to mix romance with intrigue.

But that’s just on the surface. Unwrap James Goldman’s 1966 play about King Henry II and his dysfunctional family and within lies a wisecracking comedy. Productions have employed the “Leave It to Beaver” theme song as background music for the clannish carnage and have sprinkled in references to TV soaps “Dynasty” and “Dallas” like poisoned candies.

Director Edward J. Steneck isn’t having any of that mischief at Westminster Community Theatre. His remarkably straight version offers no zesty improvisation to help Goldman’s sometimes funny, sometimes tired witticisms.


The result is a confidently acted but often slow staging that clocks in at 2 1/2 hours. Despite amusing passages, it ultimately feels like a long time to spend in Henry’s world, especially in the second act when the king (Jason Bond) and his wife, devilish Queen Eleanor (Sharyn Case), talk and talk and talk about their treacherous love.

Goldman’s take on their sniping relationship is only part of his wildly revisionist approach to history. Still, he gets the players right, starting with Richard the Lion-Hearted (Bill Forant), fresh from bloody victories abroad, returning to find his two brothers plotting to take their father’s throne.

Richard enthusiastically joins in, with both the help and hindrance of Eleanor. Henry tries to outmaneuver his nasty progeny while keeping tabs on the queen. Each thinks he or she has the upper hand, and it can be interesting to watch them try to checkmate each other.

Bond and Case are the most interesting, even if the quiet staging restrains their performances. Bond’s Henry is one clever monarch, but he’s also plagued by a fatal self-idolatry that prevents him from seeing the truth. The queen is more clear-eyed but weakened by her love for the king, and Case shows that contradiction.

As for those viperish sons, Michael Hampton is a wimpy, whiny John, Paul Morgavo is a brainy, immoral Geoffrey and Forant is a brave but easily manipulated Richard. Just the kind of boys a dad would kill for.


* “The Lion in Winter,” Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St., Friday and Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Ends Jan. 31. $9-$12. (714) 527-5546. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


Jason Bond: King Henry II

Wendi de Barros: Alais Capet

Michael Hampton: John

Paul Morgavo: Geoffrey

Bill Forant: Richard

Sharyn Case: Eleanor

Joel Ray Ibazez: Philip

A Westminster Community Theatre production of John Goldman’s play, directed by Edward J. Steneck. Set: Gary Black. Costumes: Dawn Britt.