Joliet Drama Guild presents ‘Lion in Winter’
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media February 9, 2012 11:12AM
‘Lion in Winter’
♦ Feb. 10-20
♦ Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park Theater at 201 W. Jefferson Sr., Joliet
♦ (877) 534-1933
Updated: February 9, 2012 11:12AM
The Joliet Drama Guild’s new play has all the bite of a stinging February wind.
“The Lion in Winter,” written by James Goldman and directed by Luke Pascale of Plainfield, is a story about the King of England and his daytime-TV train wreck of a family. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10-11 and 18-19; and at 2 p.m. Feb 12 and 20 in the indoor theater at the Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park Theater in Joliet.
“I call it a dramedy, because it’s a comedy, but there’s a lot of drama in there, too,” Pascale said. “It’s based on real characters, but it’s fictional. It’s about Henry the II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and it’s about who will take over the throne when Henry dies between his three sons. It’s all about their extremely dysfunctional family.”
“The Lion in Winter” stars Keith White of Joliet as the titular “lion” — Henry II, king of England. The action is set at Christmastime of 1183, and the king’s former wife, Eleanor (Kelly Johnson of Seneca) has just returned from a 10-year stint in prison for leading a revolt against her ex.
Henry and Eleanor are battling over who of their three sons is going succeed the throne when Henry dies: Richard (Justin Ongenae of Joliet), Geoffrey (Al Pindell of Shorewood) or John (Mark Parker of Joliet).
Another layer of drama comes into play in the form of Henry’s guests. There’s Alais (Devon Ford of Joliet), who, despite being betrothed Richard at one point, is now Henry’s mistress. She is the older sister of rival monarch King Phillip II (Chris Smith of Lockport), the 17-year-old king of France (and son of Eleanor’s ex-husband.)
(Fun fact: in the original 1966 Broadway production, Robert Preston starred as King Henry and Christopher Walken played King Phillip.)
During the Yuletide celebration, there is a continuous battle going on between Henry and Eleanor.
“There’s a constant game of plotting and switching sides and who’s backing whom, and who’s going to go to war with whom,” he said. “Henry backs one son, Eleanor backs another, and then they’re switching, and the third son is pissed off all the time because no one ever backs him up. It’s a very, very well-written script.”
Keith White is the head of Lewis University’s drama department, and was Pascale’s teacher once upon a time. Despite this, Pascale isn’t intimidated when it comes to giving his former professor directions.
“When I told him I was putting in to direct this, he had said this was one of his favorite plays and he’s always wanted to do it,” Pascale said. “He doesn’t act very much, so the fact that I got him to come out is a coup. He’s exceptionally talented. He’s fun to watch.”
One thing that attracted him to the script was the underlying comedy.
“The thing about this play is that it’s not slapstick, where the jokes are obvious all the time. You could approach this play and say it’s a drama, and just make it a drama. You’d probably have a couple funny moments but basically it would be very dramatic,” he said. “(But) it’s written to be funny and there is humor in the story. Sometimes you find a line, and it the actor goes just a little bit differently, it’s a funny line. It’s so well-written that you have to dig a little bit to find some of the jokes and nuances.”
Pascale loves the characters in the play, flaws and all.
“In my eyes, there’s only one character with pure intentions, and that’s Henry’s mistress,” he said. “She’s the only one that is functioning completely out of love. There’s no hero. I love stories that don’t give you a perfect ending and the hero is flawed, because that’s real.”
He hopes audiences are as impressed with his cast as he has been, and he hopes they enjoy themselves.
“I want people to laugh and to be impressed. Who knows if Keith is going to be onstage any time soon,” he said. “The lady playing Eleanor is so talented, and it’s so fun to see them onstage feeding off each other and just giving each other so much to work with. I find myself watching rather than directing. They are so good and their instincts are just dead-on.”