A dysfuctional family Christmas, complete with some old roaring lions

By by dianna wray/dwray@vicad.com
Nov. 30, 2011 at 5:30 a.m.

Carl Masterson, left,  portrays Henry II and Mark Jones portrays Richard Lionheart in " The Lion in Winter" at The Company OnStage.

Carl Masterson, left, portrays Henry II and Mark Jones portrays Richard Lionheart in " The Lion in Winter" at The Company OnStage.

The ties that bind can also eviscerate. If you don't think that's a true statement, go check out "The Lion in Winter."

"The Lion in Winter" is a fictional play, but it gets at the complexities of love, and family, politics and life like no other ever has. At least that's my opinion.

The year is 1183, and the children of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II have gathered to celebrate Christmas with their parents - and grapple over who will be the next king of England.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful women of her time, and she married Henry II, one of the most brilliant men of the age.

In the play, it has been more than 30 years since they married. The passion that drove them together has turned as bitter and burning as battery acid. Things get interesting because, where some couples would have dealt with things by breaking dishes, these two work out their hate in complex political intrigues, using their children against each other - all over the course of a good old-fashioned family Christmas.

The play premiered on Broadway in 1966, and closed almost as quickly. But the playwright, James Goldman, knew he had a good thing on his hands, and the film version of his story, with Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole in the lead roles, found the pithy brilliance that had been lurking in the words all along.

At 50 years old, Henry is the oldest man he knows. The son he planned on leaving the thrown to has died young, and so he has to choose another son to inherit the crown.

Henry wants his youngest son John, and Eleanor wants her favorite Richard to be king. The intrigue and political machinations that follow as the family - alongside their holiday guest Phillip, king of France - is the stuff of genius.

The way words are used in this play sends chills down your spine and grows goose bumps on your arms, as the characters plot and plan and love and suffer and long for each other across emotional gulfs that have become too wide to ever dream of crossing.

It's the heartbreaking truth, some things, once they are done, can never be undone.

What do you do when the love of your life has become your greatest enemy? How do you face death, knowing in your heart you've made a mess of so much of life? These are the questions that get wrangled with in the play, and it's worth the price of a ticket to watch as the characters arrive at the answers.



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