The Lion in Winter | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Lion in Winter 

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The Lion In Winter, Canongate Theatre Company, at Profiles Theatre. Certainly it's valid for James Goldman to reimagine the struggle for royal succession as an upper-middle-class family squabble tarted up with tunics and grandiloquent speech. But by portraying Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine as the 12th century's answer to the Bickersons, and their power-thirsty three sons as twits, Goldman has rendered any conflict dramatically uninvolving. In this 1960s version of King Lear, with sons instead of daughters and insults and platitudes instead of poetry, a battle for power carries all the historical weight of children fighting for control of the family landscaping business. And Henry and Eleanor's purportedly witty banter, which was rescued in the film version by Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, in lesser hands has a predictable Norman Lear sitcom quality.

Canongate Theatre's inaugural production, directed by Jeffrey Baumgartner, is respectable but somewhat flat, ultimately failing to justify yet another staging of this creaky community-theater vehicle. The cast are competent but a bit stiff and phlegmatic, most of them playing characteristics instead of characters and few of them convincing as royalty. Larry Bohler and Marge Uhlarik as Henry and Eleanor manage to wring some pathos out of the feuding royal couple, and John Knight has some wicked fun with the role of proud Prince Richard, but these few bright spots can't compensate for the essential stolidity of Goldman's dated script. --Adam Langer

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