S.T.A.R.’s ‘Lion in Winter’ is fun addition to the season’s theatrical offerings

 

By Nancy Oliveri

As we found out last week with the positively huge, amazing cast of SRO’s Les Mis, the greater Binghamton area has no shortage of people with talent.

Thankfully, the relatively new Southern Tier Actors Read (S.T.A.R.) provides another outlet for actors to show their stuff, without having to quit their day jobs. If they are given a part in a show, they can spend more time perfecting their delivery, and less time trying to memorize lines.

Cast of The Lion in Winter gather in the parlor at the Phelps Mansion during rehearsal.This weekend’s production (Jan. 25 and 26) is billed as a “Dramatic Staged Reading” of James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter, directed by and starring Jan DeAngelo. With scripts in hand, the cast performs the sprawling story of the powerful, dysfunctional Plantagenets, who are often at each other’s throats — sometimes literally.

I was able to sit in on the final dress rehearsal, and I realized that, after a while, the scripts virtually disappeared, although the eight actors were still holding their books. With costumes, a few simple set pieces and a narrator (Nick DeLucia), the reading and partial stage blocking moved along nicely.

The play is funny, appalling, surprising and familiar. Who can forget Katherine Hepburn, as the acerbic and bitter Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the film adaptation of the play?

Eleanor, confidently played here by Kate Murray, has been kept on house arrest by her  husband, Henry II, (DeAngelo), but it’s Christmas after all, and families should be together … along with Dad’s mistress, Alais (Jana Kucera), and her brother, King Phillip of France (Josh Sedelmeyer).

Henry and Eleanor’s three surviving sons, Richard (Michael Kelly-Farley), Geoffrey (Colin Henehan) and John (Vincent Paniccia), join the crazy older royals in an elaborate chess game, jockeying for provinces, Eleanor’s freedom, annulments and, of course, the crown. They create stalemates at every opportunity and, when they stop short of killing each other, it seems to be for no other reason than the pleasure of living another day to do it all over again.

Each supporting cast member is obviously having a ball, notably Sedelmeyer as the handsome Philip. Kucera as Alais has her work cut out for her as she shifts from mistress to power-hungry wannabe queen, should she eventually marry her much older lover. Paniccia’s John, the youngest son, sounds the least like he is reading from a script, although that is absolutely forgiven here for all of them, as this is, after all, a reading.

DeAngelo’s Henry is commanding and bombastic and reminded me a little of Robert Shaw’s Henry VIII in the 1969 film A Man for All Seasons. He and Eleanor have a love/hate relationship that is filled, by turns, with rage, artifice, jealousy and tenderness. These emotions believably transition from one scene to the next.

Murray’s conveyance of her character’s borderline personality disorder (oh, heck, both she and Henry have it) is consistent throughout. It’s easy to play such a character by just being a ham, but Murray checks that at the door. Henehan and Kelly-Farley play the bickering older brothers well, approaching their roles in a manner easily recognizable to anyone who has ever witnessed or engaged in that kind of family dynamic.

This wintry weekend let S.T.A.R. take you back to 1183 for some royal fun and mayhem. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. today (Jan. 25) and 3 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 26) at the Phelps Mansion, 191 Court S., Binghamton. Tickets are $10 at the door. For more information, call 729-1959.

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