BTF’s ‘LION’ COOLS OFF A HOT SUMMER, OR IS IT THE OTHER WAY AROUND? … WILLIAMS, ATKINSON DRIVE ROUSING INTERPRETATION OF GOLDMAN CLASSIC … plus … PLANET EXCLUSIVE! WE SET UP OUR EXPOSE’ OF PITTSFIELD’S BLOATED BUDGET … or … “TAXPAYERS GET HOSED AGAIN”
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI Arts and Entertainment
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, JULY 1, 2013) — Half the year is shot, and though the July breeze sighs of summer, it is “winter” yet in the Berkshires, and, like the past two, a rather warm one. Check that. This one is positively hot.
The Berkshire Theater Festival’s current production of Lion in the Winter, which opened Saturday and runs to July 13, takes a blow torch to the ice and chill of theater mediocrity. It likewise freezes out the so-so and the “not bad.” Lion hits most of the night on all cylinders, propelled by Robert Moss‘ crisp direction, smart acting led by principals Treat Williams (Henry II) and Jayne Atkinson (Eleanor of Aquitaine), and the “little details” neatly attended.
“My Three Sons, 12th Century-style”
This 12th century version of My Three Sons, also known as My Icy Wife, My Coy Mistress, and My Filthy Grab for Power, features prodigious familial dysfunction magnified by the emotions of Christmas, the threat of war, and the hearts’ bitter notes played upon the harp of love. Williams is a treat as the power-mad Henry, an aging king who has the dilemma of choosing which of his three sons should inherit his kingdom. Should it be the brainy Geoffrey (Tommy Schrider), the pimply milksop John (Karl Gregory), or the steely Richard (Aaron Costa Ganis)? In the end, the hate he takes is equal to the hate he makes. Henry condemns everyone to death then lets them all go to live miserably ever after. Nothing gets resolved, and not much happens.
Moss, when asked what he hoped the audience would take from the production, acknowledged as much, saying, “The original title of the play was A Day in the Life of Henry II, and in fact, it’s just a day in the life: He’s had the queen come back, the kids are there, his mistress is there, Philip [king of France] comes with a deal — and nothing ultimately happens.”
They plot, they plan, they try to murder each other, and then they don’t, nothing like Fred McMurray except for the last part.
‘Williams Makes Henry His Own’
It’s hard to shake Peter O’Toole from the mind when dealing with Lion, but the stage version, which preceded the film by two years, makes this problem solvable. Compared to the sweeping locations of the cinematic version, the stage is static. Brett Banakis‘ lovely vaulted-arch set design stays put, and clever use of props and tapestries creates from the stationary various bedrooms and chambers, a reception hall, and a wine cellar-cum-dungeon. The castle-like stones combine to make the rooms look as gelid as the characters, an effect aided by the BTF’s air conditioning, which on opening might was cranked well past “chill” and all the way to “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here.”
Williams commands every “room” into which he walks and makes Henry his own. He modulates spottily, too softly at the beginning of the play (a slow start that could be attributed to a number of reasons) but comes on royally through the remainder. Out, Mr. O’Toole. Make way for the king.
Williams finds his equal in Atkinson, the queen mother who doesn’t know how to do either. She’s quick with the repartee and wallows with expert piteousness in mother’s guilt. She drips in jewels and sarcasm, both part of her gamesmanship against Henry for the fate of the crown. Atkinson seasons Eleanor with a compelling combination of spice, vulnerability, and recollection. Eleanor of Aquitaine is a woman with many miles on her, and miles to go before she sleeps, and Atkinson uses her theatrical experience to great advantage. She makes it hard to visualize a younger actress pulling off such a role, which tells us that Moss and Company (Alan Filderman, casting director) cast this play with great aplomb.
Casting Lots with Great Effectiveness
That’s best seen in the three sons. As for Chip (John), Robbie (Geoffrey), and Mike (Richard), these three stooges make it easy to see why Henry throws the lot of them in the hoosegow and wants them all dead. As John, Gregory overplays his hand with a performance at times so over the top as to sighting bottom. Of course, it fits into the play with no problem, since John is the weakest of the three, a hackneyed and acneyed punk afraid of the shadow of his own shadow. Ganis as Richard chews up more than he has bitten off, trying gamely to keep pace with Williams and Atkinson.
This finds its most evident pronouncement in the volatile scene where Richard damns his father for not loving him. Shrider’s Geoffrey hits a good pitch as the “compromise” son. Compared to his stage brothers, Shrider’s understatements deem him the most kingly of the three, both as successor to Henry and the actor best able to hold his own. One wonders if the effective ineffectiveness of this trio is all a part of Moss’s master plan for Lion. Same with a mousy Tara Franklin, who becomes a throwaway as Henry’s mistress (and Richard’s betrothed). When she goes against Williams and Atkinson, there’s never a chance she’ll steal a scene. A boyish Matthew Stucky likewise wanes more than waxes as an annoying Philip Capet, king of France.
Goldman’s writes great dialogue, and one can see how actors would love to say these lines. That makes it easier to learn the script, of course, but it also provides the actors with an inherent boost, a syntactical energy that, in the hands of actors like Williams and Atkinson, rings out to the balcony’s last row.
The jungle is not mighty, for there is no jungle — just the arctic chill of family love gone bad. And the lion does not sleep tonight. Rather, it roars.
THE LION IN WINTER
by James Goldman
directed by Robert Moss
featuring Jayne Atkinson and Treat Williams
at The Fitzpatrick Main Stage
Previews June 25-June 28
Opens June 29 8pm; Closes July 13
Tickets: Preview: $38;
A: $58 B: $48 C: $38
THERE, WE’VE DONE IT AGAIN
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
That should be the theme song of this year’s budget deliberations in the City of Pittsfield. The local economy continues to tank. General Dynamics has canned at least 48 and as many as 100 local positions (average salary, $85,000 plus bennies), and there isn’t enough typing paper in taxpayers’ pockets to build a small paper plane. Nonetheless, in the Dreaded Public Sector, things couldn’t be better.
The city’s total FY14 budget exceeds $137 million, up more than $4 million from last year. That’s a multimillion dollar raise despite a continuing drop in performance from the corner office and the school department. City officials must think this is The Sport Formerly Known As Major League Baseball, where .215 hitters and 5.78 ERA pitchers bitch and moan when they “only” get million dollar raises for stinking up the joint.
As usual, the Pittsfield School Department, which today welcomes its new superintendent, leads the league in effrontery. Initially, interim superintendent Gordon Noseworthy put forth an initial budget of $57.5 million, amounting to a 5% raise over the year. Mayor Dan Bianchi, who also serves on the school committee, thought that figure in excess, leading to what we in the Post-Standard newsroom used to call a “NS” statement (the letters standing for “no s**t”).
Noseworthy’s play, Bianchi’s stance, Alf Barbalunga‘s enabling, and the degree of the city council’s compliance shall be examined in more detail tomorrow. Meanwhile, if you have thoughts about how the budget cycle went, THE PLANET is your place. We have the Beef Box set up and ready.
“I wonder if I’m hungry out of habit and if all my lusts, like passions in a poem, aren’t really recollections.” — Eleanor of Aquitaine, in James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.