NTC Opens 2013-2014 Season with The Lion In Winter

 Maxine Sattizahn (Eleanor), Craig Christansen (King Henry II) and Brandice Thompson (Alais) in The Lion In Winter at NTC

There is an underlying problem with James Goldman’s The Lion In Winter.  Either it is a play of historical significance and you have to believe you’re looking at the 12th century King of England and the former Queen of France or, it is a satire, a spoof with a mirror basis in history.  Award winning Director Kris Neely interprets it as “a comedy in two acts.”  He felt the cast needed to understand and convey the humor Mr. Goldman wrote into his play. They worked intently to reveal all the comedy that lives in this amazing script.

The Lion In Winter, written in 1966 by James Goldman, depicts the personal and political conflicts of Henry II of England (Craig Christansen), his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Maxine Sattizahn), their children and their guests during Christmas, 1183.  The entire story takes place within the walls of the Chateau de Chinon, a castle on the banks of France’s Vienne River.

The play opens with the arrival of Henry’s wife, Eleanor whom he has imprisoned since 1173. The story concerns the gamesmanship between Henry, Eleanor, their three surviving sons, Richard the Lionheart, the oldest son, (Jeffrey Taylor), Geoffrey, the middle son (Kurt Gundersen) and John, youngest son to Henry (Yver Northum).  Also involved is Philip II, King of France (Christopher C. Wright), who was the son of Eleanor’s ex-husband, Louis VII by his third wife Adelaide and Philip’s half-sister Alais Capet who has been at Court since she was betrothed to Richard at age 8, but has since become Henry’s mistress (Brandice Thompson). A silent character who is always around is Matilda, their eldest daughter (Hannah Jester).

Kris Neely has assembled a fine cast, particularly Craig Christansen as Henry. Though aging, he portrays him as vital as he ever was.  His manipulation of family and others are portrayed as spontaneous and emotional.  Maxine Sattizahn plays Eleanor with great temperament and presence.  Yver Northum as John is sulky and sullen with a boyish outlook. Kent Gundersen’s Geoffrey is a man of energy and action. He is charming and the “brains” of the family.  Jeffrey Taylor plays Richard the Lionheart—he is attractive, graceful and impressive. He is easily the strongest and toughest of the three sons.  Brandice Thompson’s Alais (the beautiful mistress of Henry) is initially innocent, but by the end of the play, she has acquired a ruthless streak of her own.  Christopher C. Wright, as Philip is both impressive and handsome.   Dressing it all up in beautiful 12th century costumes is the talent of Costume Designers Janice Deneau and John Clancy.

To witness this play in live performance, to experience the underlying emotional savagery in the plot and spoken word, in the intimacy of Novato’s new theater, as presented by a cast of exceptionally strong actors—is a somewhat intense experience even though we are comfortable laughing out loud at Kris Neely’s exploration of all the comedy which is present in this amazing script.

The Lion In Winter runs at Novato Theater Company August 30-September 22, 2013.  The theater is located at 5420 Nave Drive, Suite C, Novato.  Performances are Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Additional performances are Thursday, September 5, 12 and 19 at 8 p.m. For tickets, call the box office at 415-883-4498 or go to www.novatotheatercompany.org.

Coming up next at NTC will be Gypsy with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; music by Julie Styne and book by Arthur Laurents, October 18-November 10, 2013.

Flora Lynn Isaacson