BWW Review: BAROQUE CAROLS, AND HUNGER FOR THE CROWN, IS THE ORIGIN STORY OF CHRISTMASES OF YESTERYEAR IN THE LION IN WINTER at FreeFall Theatre
Upon entering the space the audience is immediately surrounded by the dwellings of a castle. The beautiful set design by Tom Hansen lent itself well to this harkened tale of Christmas in England. Henry II, King of England and his ward Alais are seen talking about their love and the King donning a Blood Red Crown that has been exquisitely crafted to the finest detail. Soon we meet the three sons of King Henry, Richard Lionheart, John and Geoffrey. All three are bastards in the eyes of King Henry and all three feel their stake at the Crown is higher, and more deserving than the others. Whether written into the script or a Directors choice, the use of Christmas carols, both modern and Baroque was a nice touch and lent itself well to the story and made scene changes seamless. A nice touch from the set design was having the pieces of the King's table fly in from up above and added nicely to the set. The texture of having the candles on every inch of the set, gave the castle a warm feeling and made it also feel very elegant and regal.
Alais is supposed to be promised to the rightful heir to the throne, when all along King Henry is in love with her. Eleanor, King Henry's estranged wife is kept prisoner locked away in the castle, and often comes to many a disagreement with Henry on how the Kingdom should be run. In true "Game of Thrones" fashion its a battle to the end for the crown and throne. King Henry wants the Kingdom handed over to John, and Eleanor wants the kingdom passed onto Richard, much like the battle of the Lannister's and the Starks one crown is at stake and each son and parent will stop at nothing to see that it is handed to the rightful successor.
Chris Crawford, freeFall's Associate Artistic Director and the Director of this show did an exceptional job and should be commended as this Company truly shines with many exceptional performances. You really feel the family dynamic through every aspect of this story. Joe D. Lauck lends himself well to a staunch, powerful, and sometimes aloof King Henry. He is steadfast in his ways, and wants the best for the Kingdom. His voice and stoic movements for the King make one stand and take notice, but its also the tender almost comedic moments where he shines, and you can truly see the heart of the King. Eleanor played by the truly exceptional Stephanie Dunnam commanded the stage in every scene. She was strong willed when she needed to be and tender in moments as well. She loves her children, but wants to be sure she stops at nothing to see the right man win. Stephanie's Eleanor exuded regal elegance and her moment to moment on stage with each character, from the dialogue through every expression should be commended. Richard Lionheart played by the outstanding Eric Brandon Davis was towering over the competition. He has a strong powerful delivery and an even stronger appearance on stage. You can tell he has the makings of a King, and he lives every moment as if it will be his last. This season so far has been an exceptional treat as audiences have had the esteemed pleasure of witnessing Eric Brandon Davis in not one but TWO exceptionally stirring performances back to back, having recently witnessed his breathtaking and skin crawling performance in last months, The Turn of the Screw.
Geoffrey played by Joseph Michael-Kenneth is strong in delivery as the misunderstood son of King Henry. Seen as the Chancellor to brother John, Geoffrey has a hunger to be King, only to be overshadowed by the two other prospects. Harkening to the likes of Kit Harrington as Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones" Joseph Michael-Kenneth fits well into this world and eyes are drawn to him and his every move. John the youngest son of King Henry II and the heir to the throne in Henry's eyes played exceptionally well by Robert "Spence" Gabriel was the comic relief we needed. He stole the scene everytime he was on stage in the best way possible. He was the whiny child that always got what he wanted because he was the youngest and therefore the "favorite." Robert's exceptional timing, and facial expressions led to a stark contrast to the other characters on stage and my eyes were glued to his every move. Having witnessed his turn in last season's HIR at Jobsite Theatre this is a remarkable left turn, and I was here for every second. Robert "Spence" Gabriel is an extremely versatile actor and one to be watched for some time, truly a huge presence on stage and a great fit into this Battle Royale for the crown.
Alais Capet played by Alicia Thomas is the perfect ward of the castle, her facial expressions and the sincere ache in her delivery made you feel for her every moment. Having witnessed her exceptional performance as Ernestine Crumb in last season's Crumbs from the Table of Joy she is a remarkable actresses and truly grounded in every moment. Most often found in an actor of her Senior, Alicia is strong in every moment, much like Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple I was riveted by every second. Rounding out the cast is the exceptional Rob Glauz as Philip, King of France. Philip is the perfect King and perfect juxtaposition to his rival King Henry. Skirting in and out of the scenes, he almost seems like the "fly on the wall" whom knows everything about everyone. Its the secret King Philip is hiding that would potentially unravel everything if found out. His connection to the King and his delivery in every moment lends well to this fine portrayal. Having witnessed Rob's work in last season's Perfect Arrangement, this actor is one to watch, and continually impresses with every turn.
The costumes designed exquistely by Eric Brandon Davis lend well to the perfect feel of a castle in 1183. From leather, to gauntlets,to chain mail, and fur, each character has their own sense of regalness and this fine attention to every detail should be regailed as some of the finest costume work I've seen to date. Chris Crawford and the entire Company and Artistic Staff should be commended on the fine work created with this piece. Like a perfect episode of "Game of Thrones" this is the perfect opening to an exceptional Holiday Season. Upon entering the space for their opening night, I was excited about seeing this piece, and I can officially say I was blown away.
"A Decade of Daring," is the perfect theme for this season, and freeFall Theatre has done just that with this production. True to theme, exceptionally acted, designed, and directed, this will be regarded as one of the finest pieces to come from freeFall. So admist all the festivies, dinners, and "decking the halls" in all sorts of fashion, make sure to take some time away from your schedule and embark on this wonderful journey to 1183 England and the castle of King Henry II, for the secrets that lie within those doors, may they dare to change you, dare to challenge you, and move you to your core. In true Holiday fashion this is the perfect treat to ring in the "Most Wonderful Time of the Year," and complete with broad-swords who could ask for more. Don't miss the finest work to come out of freeFall; who knows it could be the perfect gift on someone's list, and this gift is one I will cherish on many a "Silent Night."
The Lion in Winter runs through December 22, 2019 at freeFall Theatre and tickets can be acquired by visiting freefalltheatre.com or by calling the box-office at 727-498-5205. "Winter is Coming..." and I was there with Bells-on for the do-not miss event of "Game of Thrones" proportions, go ahead come on in, King Henry II is waiting.
Photo Credit: Thee Photo Ninja.