By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Yes, it's a regular Dynasty of a dynasty, and Goldman's clever, rhythmic writing keeps it zipping along. "What shall we hang?" Henry bellows. "The holly or each other?"
The Stage West cast includes six of this area's best actors, and they're in fine form here. Elliott, sporting a leonine mane of silver hair and a neatly squared beard, is a powerful and sexy "master bastard" as Henry. Tompkins makes a dark and brooding Richard, turning on the testosterone in his bedroom encounter with Philip. Trull and Neuenfeldt bring impressive verve to the roles of the younger princes, who must slither in and out of scenes like angry eels. Schultes handles the underwritten part of Alais with grace and intelligence. And if only we didn't know the cadence of Kate Hepburn's Eleanor so well from the 1968 movie, Pam Peadon's delivery of the play's best lines wouldn't sound so...studied.
So, acting-wise, The Lion in Winter is the cat's meow. But these wonderful actors must wander across the vast, dirty stage in the energy-sapping Scott Theatre. The set by Nelson Robinson/Stageworks surely was rented from some high school Camelot. It's too flimsy and unfocused for this professional production. Why those upstage stairs to nowhere that no one ever uses? What are those big white cones? The tiny plywood furniture?
Michael O'Brien's lighting casts all the actors' faces in deep shadows, giving them black smudges for eyes, like masks of tragedy. Long speeches unfold in lighting so dim the actors appear to be in silhouette. That at least keeps the details of the ugly costumes by Patricia Nielsen out of view. King Henry and his clan wear capes and boxy coats that look like cast-offs from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. None of the shoes are right.
The final insult on opening night was the sound system. Not sure why these strong-voiced actors need head mikes in a space where natural projection probably would suffice, but if they're going to use them, they need to be working uniformly and balanced evenly. Voices kept cutting in and out throughout both acts. Very annoying. The cast shouldn't be so ill-served by the tech crew. If they can't do their jobs right, off with their heads.