Historical theater can be somewhat burdensome, but James Goldman’s concept of the myriad troubles surrounding England’s King Henry II back in 1183 is a powerful exception.
“The Lion in Winter” places real royal figures into an intriguing fictional situation and inevitably draws the finest local acting talent to service its production, such as the energetic ensemble currently clashing on stage at Santa Ana’s Attic Community Theatre.
Director Bob Fetes has assembled an exceptional cast for his revival of the 1966 comedic drama about the monarch who imprisoned his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and must choose a successor from among his three sons. Unless, that is, he can wed his mistress and produce a more acceptable heir to the throne.
While the play may be quite familiar to most theatergoers, the Attic’s powerful production still should captivate its audiences. All seven performers skillfully capture the prevailing moods of ambition and desperation.
In the title role of the aging Henry, Noah Wagner commands the stage with his vocal and emotional dominance. Thwarted at every turn, he maintains an uneasy authority and a firm kinship with Goldman’s razor-edged dialogue.
The captive queen, released for the Christmas holidays, is a plum role that earned Katharine Hepburn half an Oscar 50 years ago. At the Attic, Jill Cary Martin delivers a superlative interpretation of this conniving character who uses what little advantage is left to her with consummate skill.
Jesse Seann Atkinson, as the eldest son Richard (the future Lionheart), brings a powerful presence to his demand for the crown. He also succeeds in depicting his aching vulnerability in a sharp contrast of characterization.
The middle son Geoffrey, suave and scheming, draws a calculating interpretation from Matthew Cobb. Brendan Bartunek as the youngest, John (destined to sign the Magna Carta), frets and pouts with infantile fervor.
Carly S. Taylor, Henry’s devoted lover and “the only pawn” in the royal chess match, is appropriately sweet and cunning. Her brother, the young King Philip II of France, is a calculating adversary well played by Christian Jordan Skinner.
The imposing backdrop designed by Jim Huffman nearly dwarfs the actors. Gordon Buckley’s costumes are equally effective. Even the three vassals who alter the scenery are garbed in period fashion.
“The Lion in Winter” continues to reign among the giants of its genre, and the current revival roars with epic dominance at Santa Ana’s Attic Community Theatre.
Tom Titus reviews local theater.
IF YOU GO
What: “The Lion in Winter”
Where: Attic Community Theatre, 2834 S. Fairview St., Santa Ana
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 until Feb. 3
Information: (714) 662-2525, ocact.com