The show: “The Lion in Winter” at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage (formerly the Berkshire Theatre Festival) in Stockbridge, Mass.
What makes it special?: Treat Williams and Jayne Atkinson dig into dialogue in James Goldman’s still sizzling play.
First impressions?: The script’s power plays (or should I say power playfulness) holds up well in this revival of royal ascendancy in 1183 England. Most know the play via the film starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn but it was a dandy play first (with Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris).
Here Treat Williams and Jayne Atkinson (one of America’s under-the-radar great actresses) do justice to their regal showdown as King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, with emotional underpinnings. The rest of the clan -- three sons, all with mummy and daddy issues -- have their individual moments to shine. So does the King of France (a oh-so-cool-and- collected Matthew Stucky) Only Tara Franklin, as a vapid, whiny, pouty Alais disappoints -- and makes you wonder if King Henry has been mistress-inspired by “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”
What’s it about?: Christmas is coming so it’s time to let the Queen out of prison and celebrate Henry’s decision of which of his three sons will get a promised crown for a holiday present. But since this is the ultimate dysfunctional royal family, there are secrets, revenges, rivalries, plots, counterplots and counter counterplots all wrapped in a “Daddy liked you best” dynamic. As Eleanor so memorably says: “Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”
So who wins? The audience mostly under Robert Moss’s lively direction. Aaron Costa Ganis plays a strong-yet-sensitive cub as Richard; Tommy Schrider (so good in many roles at Yale Rep and TheaterWorks) is deadpan funny as the forgotten middle offspring Geoffrey. And Karl Gregory (who was so fine in a terrific new off-Broadway play “From White Plains which I saw) nails all of John’s adolescent angst with razor sharp humor and timing.
But in the end its the old royals who thoroughly rule the stage. Williams is gruff, sarcastic, cunning but every inch the king. Atkinson is a marvel, showing both coolness, and affection in strategic amounts, showing in no uncertain terms that the woman behind the throne is no pushover.
Who will like it?: History buffs. Lovers of great dialogue. Dr. Phil.
Who won’t?: History buffs who are really picky. Those who like royals to have more Shakespearean poetry. Prince Charles.
For the kids?: Older ones will identify with the sibling rivalries and the great guessing game of who will inherit dad’s kingdom.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Lear Lite.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: When was the last time you say a play with such brilliant dialogue. Ok, “August: Osage Country” was pretty damn good. But in the ’60 “The Lion in Winter” was a startling contemporary conversational and thoroughly domestic take on global (at that time) politics, making history come alive and understandable. It’s what “The Tudors” should have been.
The basics: “The Lion in Winter” runs through July 13 at the theater at 83 East Main St., Stockbridge. Tickets are $38 to $58. Information at 413-997-4444 and www.berkshiretheatregroup.orgCopyright © 2015, CT Now