All families have their problems and issues. But rarely are they as witty, salacious, gothic and funny as are found in the Stratford Players’ next production — James Goldman’s rapacious royal romp, “The Lion in Winter,” staged in a full production beginning Sunday, Sept. 13.
The play, and subsequent Peter O’Toole, Kathryn Hepburn movie, sparkle with devious demeaning dialogue perfectly attuned to modern ears and sitcom sensibilities. The language is brilliant, the laughs are plentiful and the ferocious family feuds between Henry Plantagenet (Henry II), his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and their petulant progeny are vicious and delicious.
The play is directed by Stratford Artistic Director Marsha Kennedy and stars Allen Purchis as Henry II, King of England; Kathleen Walker as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and later England; John Wesley Leon as Henry’s son Richard (the Lion-Hearted); Christopher Morse as son Geoffrey; and Mark Rogers as son John. Rounding out the cast are Donald Padgett as Phillip Capet, King of France; and Jeannette Rogers as Alais Capet, sister to Phillip, fiancé to John and mistress to Henry.
Purchis is an esteemed veteran of Riverside County theater, having received 30 Inland Theatre League awards, appeared in seven seasons of the Ramona Pageant and founded the San Jacinto Shakespeare Company. Walker holds a master’s degree in fine arts in acting from Penn State University, and is an off-Broadway veteran and experienced classical actor, having played throughout the U.S. in national Shakespearean tours.
Stratford founder Kennedy chose “Lion in Winter” for the language. “I loved the script — the power, passion, plotting and humor,” she said. “There is not a word wasted. Allen [Purchis] and Kathleen [Walker] are perfectly matched in this contest of wills. The cast, in addition to being skilled with decades of experience, are very good to work with, and we have a fantastic team working behind the curtain.”
Kennedy said she is especially thrilled to present the actors in resplendent costumes on loan from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the preeminent regional theatres in the country.
“The Lion in Winter” begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, and follows on the Sundays of Sept. 20 and 27, also at 2 p.m. Evening performances are at 7 p.m. the Saturdays of Sept. 19 and 26. All performances are at the Caine Learning Center, 54385 Pine Crest Avenue. Tickets, $12, are available online at www.stratfordplayers.com and at the door.