Pride Theatre’s Political Drama Close-Up

Jan. 25, 2017
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Cory Jefferson Hagen and cast LION IN WINTER

Just before this past weekend a horribly aging orange child took his place behind the gilded curtains in a big white house. Judging from the choices he’s made in decorations for his cabinet, the next four years (and possibly eight) will be bad drama and worse comedy. Thankfully, The Pride Theatre Company opens a far better show on the same weekend as it presents The Lion in Winter. The casting is exquisite. The drama is elegant. The ensemble of characters is deeply flawed. They are all at each others throats. And because this is all on stage and because it's all so well-executed this is a great escape from the ugliness that has descended on Washington D.C.


Bill Jackson mixes grave intensity with sharp, mercurial wit in the role of King Henry II of England. Jackson is toweringly poised as a monarch entering his final years. Liz Norton is every bit his match and more in the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine. James Goldman’s script allows Eleanor a bit more kindness and compassion than almost anyone else in the ensemble. Norton does great things with this humanity. Nowhere is this more evident than in her emotional dynamic when dealing with Jackson's Henry.


Drama so often requires audiences to do more work in completing an illusion of reality then they often realize. Two characters are supposed to have known each other for a very long time and been very intimate together and we complete the illusion as  two actors pretend to have known each other for ages. As creatures who have evolved socially, it’s almost impossible to fake decades’ familiarity for any human audience. We know it when we see it and we know we're not seeing it onstage. We complete the illusion on our end. Norton and Jackson have a breathtakingly organic feel to their familiarity in character.  It's very rare when we get to see two actors so vividly rendering such a intellectually intimate loving animosity. There is a chemistry which reminds us as audience members how often we are doing work to complete the illusion of intimacy between two characters. Norton and Jackson do such a good job that we don't have to.


Likewise it is difficult to find fault with the rest of the ensemble. Ashley Rodriguez is allowed nearly as much compassion in the role of the king's lover Alais. Though she is scarcely innocent, the character is driven by passion and genuine love for those she cares about. Rodriguez does a brilliant job of bringing that love to the stage with clarity and a multifaceted beauty which radiates on many emotional levels.


Shayne Steliga, Derrion Brown and Nicholas Callan Haubner play an arsenal of different dynamics as the king’s three sons. Each one of them wants the crown in different ways for different reasons. Cory Jefferson Hagen impressively rounds out the cast as the king of France. He is coldly passionate as something of a non-familial brother to the other three who introduces his own desires and machinations into the bewildering complexity of it all. None of the four of them truly trust each other or either of their parents. And neither of them really trust anyone else either. It is a profoundly dysfunctional relationship between all of them which echoes in reflects a lot of what is currently going on in Washington DC. We're capable of enjoying it on stage as it is delivered with such profound grace and poise and humanity that "real world" politics are so gravely lacking. There's a kind of resolution at the end of it all onstage. One hopes for as much for the "real world" in the coming years from the government. The show is an impressive (and one would be tempted to say reasonably flawless) debut production for Pride Theatre. The company just opened its first show and I'm already looking forward to its next.


Pride Theatre Company’s production of The Lion In Winter runs through Feb. 4 at the Alchemist Theatre on 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. For ticket reservations, visit The Alchemist Theatre online.

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