‘The Lion in Winter’ deserves a roar of applause | AspenTimes.com

‘The Lion in Winter’ deserves a roar of applause

The scene is Christmas in the French countryside, 1183, where the holiday cheer comes barbed with royal intrigue, backstabbing and scheming over the English crown.

An aging King Henry II is fraught over his legacy, while his three sons cross and double-cross one another for his throne, egged on by Henry's wife, Eleanor, who Henry has kindly let out of prison for Christmas. Henry's mistress — who also happens to be his future daughter-in-law — and the King of France join the family for their yuletide subterfuge.

Such is the set-up for Thunder River Theatre's crowd-pleasing production of James Goldman's "The Lion in Winter," playing through Sunday in Carbondale.

Goldman's eminently quotable, darkly humorous dialogue is reason enough to see any staging of "The Lion in Winter," but the playwright's words are especially exquisite in the hands of Trary Maddalone's Eleanor and Lon Winston's Henry in this production.

“Presented in the round, it allows us to see the smirks of audience members across the theater, consciously taking us out of its historic setting in the Middle Ages and into the timeless themes of sibling rivalries, bitter marriages and the thirst for power.”

Maddalone, as Eleanor, is a joy to behold as she hisses and smiles throughout a wry, pitch-perfect performance as the imprisoned queen.

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"What shall we hang?" she asks early on, decorating director Mike Monroney's sparse set with Christmas wreathes. "The holly, or each other?"

She plays Eleanor as a woman with nothing to lose, relishing her ability to get under Henry's skin as nobody else in the castle can. Her flippant take on all the royal intrigue extends to moments that might otherwise be played for high drama, as when she mocks Henry's suggestion that he might attempt to produce a new heir with his mistress: "What kind of spindly, ricket-ridden, milky, wizened, dim-eyed, gammy-handed, limpy line of things will you beget?"

Her Eleanor pairs well with Winston's Henry. Winston plays the king as heartlessly and hilariously as one might hope, but with a gangster's panache and over-the-top bravado. His frustration mounts as Eleanor repeatedly cuts him down.

"I'm vilifying you — pay attention!" he lashes out at one point.

Among the supporting cast, Emery Major's professional debut turn as Henry's sniveling favored son, John, is noteworthy. This was the first I'd seen of Major outside of Aspen High and Theatre Aspen School productions, and it made me excited to see where the promising Aspen High School senior goes from here, as he peacocked a bit but held his own alongside David Pulliam's Richard and Adam Soloman's Geoffrey.

The production outfits John in red Converse and a pair of goggles that make him resemble — fittingly or not — a Minion from "Despicable Me." Such costuming choices elevate the surreal aspect of this production, which resists historical realism. Presented in the round, it allows us to see the smirks of audience members across the theater, consciously taking us out of its historic setting in the Middle Ages and into the timeless themes of sibling rivalries, bitter marriages and the thirst for power. My guess is that some similar plots will be playing out on Red Mountain this holiday season in Aspen.

atravers@aspentimes.com

If You Go ….

What: ‘The Lion in Winter,’ presented by Thunder River Theatre Company

Where: Thunder River Theatre, Carbondale

When: Dec. 19 & 20, 7:30 p.m., Dec. 21, 2 p.m.

Cost: $25/adults; $14/students; $17 for 20 & 30-somethings

Tickets and more info: http://www.thunderrivertheatre.com; 970-963-8200

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