March 19, 2004





'The Lion in Winter' boasts a regal lead


Holiday family gatherings can bring out the worst in people.


Take the Plantagenets, contentious English royals assembled at a French castle for Christmas, whose threats of murder aren't the usual heat-of-the-moment hyperbole; armies are standing by as the sons of King Henry II (J. Patrick McCormack) vie for his favor and their exiled mother, Eleanor (Katherine Henryk), plays them all off each other.


If James Goldman's knowing but rather shallow "The Lion in Winter" isn't the classic its historical subject matter and popularity would suggest it is, it can succeed on sheer force of larger-than-life personality.


In the blustery, bushy-bearded McCormack, director Beverly Olevin is fortunate to have the sort of actor who wears his dramatic heft lightly, wryly, confident that it comes across without pushing, which could almost be the definition of masculine charm onstage.


As his opposite number, the quietly scheming Eleanor, Henryk has the appropriate hauteur, but she's a bit too arch to convince us there's steel under the smiles. By play's end, Nanette Hennig, as Henry's pliant young mistress, seems more resolute than Eleanor, skewing our sympathies away from this peculiarly passive-aggressive queen.


Drew Wicks makes a compellingly pent-up Richard, Henry's most deserving heir, and he shares an extraordinary moment of thwarted passion with the epicene Rafael Goldstein, as the sharp young French monarch, King Philip.


Jeff G. Rack's lavender-dominated storybook set is, like too much of Olevin's production, pretty rather than gritty. This "Lion" may purr when it should roar, but in McCormack at least it gets off some good-natured growls.

--Rob Kendt


"The Lion in Winter," Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Mar. 21. $18. (310) 364-0535. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.