Review: THE LION IN WINTER - Georgetown Palace Playhouse

The action of the play centers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1183 at Château de Chinon.

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THE LION IN WINTER by James Goldman currently playing at the Georgetown Palace Playhouse is a rare treat. The show, a favorite of mine for decades, hits all the marks; historical figures, witty dialogue and epic family dysfunction that makes for an entertaining evening at the theatre. Written in 1966, the play met with marginal success on Broadway, but in 1968 when the movie adaptation, starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole debuted, THE LION IN WINTER became an instant classic, garnering Goldman an Oscar for his script.

The action of the play centers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1183 at Château de Chinon, in Touraine (present day France). It's here that an entirely fictional meeting between England's King Henry II (Damon Brown), his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Jill Leberknight) and their three living sons, Richard (Isaac Howell), Geoffrey (Zach Lentin) and John (Sullivan Brown) takes place. Thrown into this family holiday melee is the presumptive heir of the French throne, Phillip Capet (Peyton Trahan) and his sister Alias (Violet Rose Cantú) who had been sent to the English royal court at the age of 8 to be betrothed to the royal family's third son, Richard. She is the king's current mistress and at the royal court while the queen has been imprisoned by her husband (for a total of 16 years at various locations in England). While the setting is fictional, the characters are not. The Plantagenet family battles were the stuff of legend. The royal brothers plotted against their father and each other in a deadly real life game of thrones. When Henry and Eleanor married they set the world on fire; a handsome and fabulously wealthy couple, nothing was beyond their grasp. Together they ruled all but a tiny portion of present day France, England and Ireland (England was considered one of their lesser holdings). Unfortunately, of their five sons (their eldest William died at age 3) four lived to fight their father for power and were in near constant revolt against Henry until his death. Two of them would go on to wear the English crown, Richard I and John who would continue the Plantagenet dynasty that would end with King Richard III. Henry, for all of his flaws, created a justice system that can still be witnessed in our modern day. He not only eliminated trial by combat, he instituted trial by a jury of 12 peers. While Henry II may have been a successful monarch, he was a poor parent who played favorites and refused to let his young sons taste the power that he jealously kept to himself. This combination lead to a series of revolts and forgiveness that cost him all but two of his sons before his death.

The iconic play is a comedy with dramatic elements. Goldman's sparkling dialogue is key and must be delivered with vicious intelligence. Tangled and ever shifting allegiance is the very heart of THE LION IN WINTER and real life husband and wife team Jill Leberknight and Damon Brown have the chemistry to pull it off with aplomb. They rage and plead with vigorous spark, charm and very obvious affection that shines through every moment. The fact that their real son, an extraordinarily talented young actor, Sullivan Brown, playing their son John is icing on the cake. His portrayal of the youngest Plantagenet is pitch perfect with his sniveling but clever portrayal of the future king. Sullivan gets his share of laughs with outstanding comic timing. Payton Trahan as Phillip plays the role with an enigmatic grace that belies an iron will to match the rival royal clan that one can see simmering just below his urbane façade. As Geoffrey, Zach Lentin plays the forgotten son with a subtle inner calculation, switching allegiances as easily as he breathes. Lighting Designer Rebecca Kehl's design is beautiful, giving us the deep shadows that define not only the castle setting, but illuminate the lurking danger as well. Justin Dam's set design and Gretchen Johnson's scenic painting are nothing less than spectacular, no detail is overlooked in the incredible stonework walls or the beautiful tapestries. Sadly I cannot say the same about the costuming. Varying from medieval, to Renaissance, to pure fantasy, the costumes aren't equal to the overall quality of the production. It's disappointing that the fully sumptuous setting isn't realized at all levels of the production. But fortunately the negatives end there.

If you enjoy epic wordplay done by actors who deliver outstanding performances, THE LION IN WINTER at the Georgetown Palace Playhouse is for you. As a side note the company adheres to a strict masking policy so the audience's well-being is of utmost importance.


by James Goldman

Georgetown Palace Playhouse

216 W 8th Street, Georgetown, TX

Friday - Sunday, October 15th to November 14th, 2021

Running time: Approx 2.5 hours with one 15 minute intermission.

Tickets: $28 - $30,

Please note: Masks must be worn by all audience members while inside the venue.

Photo Credit: Jeff Bush


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