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Milwaukee Chamber's Intimate 'The Lion in Winter'

Theater Review

Apr. 20, 2011
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Many people recall The Lion in Winter as a 1968 Oscar-winning film starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole as an aging king and queen who struggle to hang onto their royal positions. But a theater production of the same story can be an intimate, funny and heartbreaking experience. Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's version of The Lion in Winter opened Friday at the Broadway Theatre Center. It continues through May 1.

The story is set in 1183, during the Christmas holiday celebrations. For the occasion, English King Henry II (Brian Mani) has temporarily freed his conniving wife, Eleanor (Tracy Michelle Arnold), from the castle in which he has imprisoned her. In her absence, Henry has taken a 23-year-old mistress, Alais. The actor who plays this role, Alexandra Bonesho, is among several Marquette University theater students who appear in this production. Chamber Theatre has teamed up with Marquette University to involve about 20 students in various aspects of this show, from acting to production and administration.

Judging from the excellence of Bonesho's performance, and that of another student, J. Patrick Cahill, this has been an exceptionally successful collaboration. Cahill provides much of the show's humor as the doltish son, John, who announces an obvious situation long after the rest of the family has grasped its significance. The king favors John as his successor, despite powerful opposition from the couple's other sons, Richard (Marcus Truschinski) and Geoffrey (Lenny Banovez). Each of the three actors superbly demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of each character under Producing Artistic Director C. Michael Wright's direction.

But the heart of James Goldman's play lies in a family torn by violence, greed and jealousy. Each scene builds successfully upon the last to produce a powerful effect in the play's final moments. Mani and Arnold adeptly play the two leading roles, King Henry and Queen Eleanor. In some of the play's finest scenes, they cuddle and reminisce about the "old days" when their now-grown sons were mere toddlers. But this tenderness doesn't last long. Henry and Eleanor are also extremely well matched in battle, since they know the other so well. The coldness of the family's hearts is emphasized in the beautifully constructed set, a towering series of stone pillars filled by hard, wooden furniture. Impressive lighting enhances the set's effectiveness.

The Lion in Winter continues in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through May 1.  For tickets, contact the box office at 414-291-7800.


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