Review: ‘The Lion In Winter’ at Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company in Philadelphia, PA

The Lion in Winter written by James Goldman at Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company is directed beautifully by Joshua Browns. It is a wintery reprieve from the dastardly hot Philadelphia summer. It’s a regular family reunion in France with Henry II, his agile young mistress, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three covetous sons.

Queen Eleanor (Megan Bellwoar) and King Henry II (John Lopes). Photo by Andrew Hazeltine.
Queen Eleanor (Megan Bellwoar) and King Henry II (John Lopes). Photo by Andrew Hazeltine.

It is a story that seems like it is plucked from a Game of Thrones episode. The Lion in Winter is full of scheming families, intelligent women, and men yearning for power. Queen Eleanor, who would give Cersei Lannister a run for her money, is played by Megan Bellwoar. Bellwoar is a nuanced mixture of passionate revenge and slick intelligence. She is a mountainous performer and gives the most cunning and wickedly delicious characterization to Queen Eleanor. Megan Bellwoar brings the level of the entire production up ten-fold.

Henry II, played by John Lopes, owns every place he touches on the stage. A heartbroken father one moment, a tyrannical overlord the next, Lopes finds the heartbeat of Henry II with ease.

Playing the battling sons are David Pica, Robert DaPonte, and Harry Watermeier. Pica, who plays Richard the Lionheart, is the warlord of the family. Pica gives a dark and foreboding performance as the power-hungry son. Henry Watermeier, playing the lovably dense John, is facetious and masterfully humorous.

Robert DaPonte, playing Geoffrey, stands as the most intelligent and cunning of his brothers. DaPonte is enterprising and sleekly gives definition to the brother that is often the most forgotten about.

Drew Carroll, who plays the haughty French Prince, Phillip, glides onto the stage with the entitlement and fullness of an Aristrocat who is trying too hard to be respected. Carroll isn’t given much time on the stage, but his wily performance is incredibly memorable.

Lena Mucchetti, playing the mistress who is tossed from man to man falls short of the desired strong heroine Alais. Alais should be the antitheses to Queen Eleanor, and make the audience give pause as to which woman will truly win in the end. If Queen Eleanor is a Cersei; Alais should be the Margaery Tyrell, who uses her sensuality, charm, and wicked sharp intelligence to keep her place next to the king.

Family Portrait: Geoffrey (Robert DaPonte), Richard (David Pica), King Henry II (John Lopes), John (Harry Watermeier), and Alais (Lena Mucchetti). Photo by Andrew Hazeltine.
Family Portrait: Geoffrey (Robert DaPonte), Richard (David Pica), King Henry II (John Lopes), John (Harry Watermeier), and Alais (Lena Mucchetti). Photo by Andrew Hazeltine.

Don’t expect to come with a box of tissues to this play. It is not a Shakespearean tragedy, but rather full of unexpected humor and sharp sarcasm that slaps you when you least expect it.

Costumes were by Sean Quinn. The men wore jeans, modern shoes and medieval tunic-shirts. In one scene, Caroll was almost comically dressed in a tight purple dress robe that seemed wildly inappropriate for the style of the period. The women looked as if they were wearing cheap Halloween costumes and while they still wore them well, it would have been more interesting to see them matched better with the men’s style.

The set, designed by Charlie Gallagher, is simple and effective, offering a three-tiered platform that allowed for depth and separation of setting. While the Charlie Brown tree could have been forgotten about, the rest of the set decoration put you in the scene of a wintery castle without elaborate displays. The lighting by J. Dominic Chacon, added a crisp and foreboding feeling to the bald space.

Brothers: Richard (David Pica), Geoffrey (Robert DaPonte), and John (Harry Watermeier). Photo by Andrew Hazeltine.
Brothers: Richard (David Pica), Geoffrey (Robert DaPonte), and John (Harry Watermeier). Photo by Andrew Hazeltine.

The familial savagery The Lion in Winter showcases is present and dangerous in Commonwealth Classics’ production. Even though at the heart of it, the play centers around a man’s fight for a throne, the real meat lies in the women’s cunning to get their own bidding. It becomes all too clear, that while this play is set in the 13th Century, the themes are not too far away from our modern era. Between the aggressive slandering, underhanded political moves, and gratuitous threats of military violence, it may as well be about the 2016 Presidential Election. 

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The Lion in Winter plays through August 27, 2016 at Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company performing at Drexel University’s URBN Annex Black Box Theater – 3401 Filbert Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call (610) 202-7878, or purchase them online.