Head to the Court Theater for a devastating portrait of what we now euphemistically call middle age, and the cheerful, anachronistic movie that was once aptly described as “The Lion in Winter,” which was made into a famous film starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Watch the play “The Lion in Winter.” A 12th century version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
James Goldman, II. It’s been a hot minute since I reviewed the intriguing 1966 historical drama about Henry VIII and Eleanor of Aquitaine and the couple’s three annoying sons, all of whom want to inherit their father’s throne. (This is not to mention their interest in Alais, the younger half-sister of King Philip II of France and their father’s docile mistress on the rise.) Or rather, 15 years of a vibrant life have passed. Production at the Writers’ Theater Starring real-life Glencoe married couple Michael Canavan and Shannon Cochran.
Frankly, I had forgotten how much was mentioned in this scenario about aching bones, the imminence of one’s funeral, creaking limbs, the crumpled or drooping nature of this, that and the other.
And exactly how old is the lion mentioned in winter? About 50.
Oh my god. The door of death? One can be grateful not to have lived in the 12th century. Or frankly, coming of age in 1966.
“The Lion in Winter” is the last production at the Court Theater by the good director Ron OJ Parson, whose productions I generally enjoy due to their tempo and strong perspective. None of that is exactly on the rise here, which leads one to wonder about this particular programming choice, which is hardly a grand literary masterpiece or anything. be aware. It’s a familiar title, I guess, but I was expecting Parson to either mix things up a bit more, or subvert the assumptions, or move things along a bit faster. It’s actually a pretty basic production, staged in a theater a little too big for bedroom privacy (the set is a bit cold, too), and there are a few long enough passages to make you worry Henry’s going to kick. Off before the next scene.
There’s only one reason to go see this old dog: the fun of acting.
You see John Hoogenakker as Henry, cynical and jaded. For a moment, his personality seems to disappear beneath his eyebrows and he simply stands up like a prematurely aged King Lear. And then there’s Rebecca Spence, Chicago’s (at least for my money) attitude-first interpreter of over-the-top, poetic drama. Sarcastic, funny, and always bringing wit to any fictional character, Spence is a sophisticated dispenser of words. He’s very talented in what you might call a classic Hollywood style, which is a good match for this particular game. You’ll have a good time watching what these two do, ably supported by Kenneth La’Ron Hamilton, Shane Kenyon (a very lively and combative Richard), Brandon Miller, Anthony Baldasare, and the playful Netta Walker, and many more. More of Alais than Goldman.
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Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “The Lion in Winter” (2.5 stars)
When: until December 3
Where: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.
Working time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Tickets: $40-$88 at 773-753-4472 and www.courtheatre.org