Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Lion in Winter by James Goldman, Austin Playhouse at Mueller Development, November 18 - December 18

The Lion in Winter Austin Playhouse Huck Huckaby

Your medieval experience for Austin Playhouse's The Lion in Winter is unexpectedly complete, for in that almost unheated temporary tent structure on the windy plains of the Mueller Development you might just wish you were wearing castle-appropriate fur and wool like those of the period costumes put together for the actors by Diana Huckaby. Although I suspect that they might have been wearing high tech underwear for the long evening during which we sat motionless watching them.

The talkative lady from Chicago who settled next to us at the Sunday performance confided that she was there because high winds had prompted Austin Playhouse to cancel the Saturday staging. She went over to greet Artistic Director Don Toner as he was wrangling a space heater. The temperature fell during the first half of this two-act work, and she and her husband disappeared at the intermission, as did a number of other attendees.

Kimberly Barrow, Huck Huckaby (image: Gray G. Haddock)

That's the down side, but be of good cheer, for perhaps the cold will abate and you can come prepared. My wife and I were relatively comfortable because we put on hats and pulled out gloves stowed in coat pockets since last February.

The Lion in Winter, staged originally in New York in 1966, is a familiar title thanks largely to the 1968 film of the same name with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn, which won Goldman an Academy Award for screenwriting. It's the year 1168, as the Queen reminds us in a memorably acerbic line, "and of course everyone is carrying knives." Vaguely based in English history, this piece has few of the complexities of Shakespeare's histories and none of the pageantry. King Henry married well, taking Eleanor and her Aquitaine, consolidating a reign of extent unmatched since the days of Charlemagne almost four centuries earlier. The royal pair had four sons but the first, Henry's namesake, died as a child. Now at the ripe old age of 50 -- ancient for the epoch -- Henry is canoodling with his 16-year-old female ward, he has kept his queen under house arrest in another palace for ten years, and he acknowledges the need to prepare for his succession.

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