The “Lion in Winter” at Fauquier Community Theatre

The Fauquier Community Theatre’s production of James Goldman’s “Lion in Winter” has all the ingredients of a tragic, farcical drama, full of scheming factions, power hungry sons, and sharp-witted women trying to determine who will inherit the vast lands of King Henry II.

Henry, brilliantly played by Mike Mehaffey, is determined to leave his kingdom to his youngest son, John, whose juvenile and awkward personality is convincingly played by Ricardo Padilla. However, Henry has to contend with his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, powerfully played by Lisa Bailey, who has other plans for the future of his kingdom.

Although the 12th century royal Christmas family reunion of father, three sons, wife, mistress and even the King of France, resembles a pool of sharks ready to devour each other, the characters struggle with heartbreak, rejection, and passionate love, reflecting human emotions with which families could identify even today.

Mehaffey portrays Henry’s contradictions in his family relationships, from distrust and resentment of his wife Eleanor (whom he has just released from prison for the occasion), to his ardent love for her. Mehaffey is convincing as the tormented monarch who is seeking to find meaning in the later years of his life. The actor chose a more subdued interpretation, without the melodrama or bombast, giving a more in depth reading of the character he portrays, and maintaining a continuing interest in his role to the end of the performance.

In the quick-paced back and forth, Bailey skillfully conveyed Eleanor’s waivering between love for her three sons and complete disdain of them. One wonders how both sentiments could occupy the same person, as she plots to make their oldest son Richard heir to Henry’s kingdom. Bailey’s ability to capture the rhythm of language was extraordinary.

In an imposing performance as soldier and warrior, Richard, played by Gregory Legott, compellingly marks his rightful place as heir to the throne. While expecting to wed the French princess Alais, played by the demure yet self-assured Kelsey Moran, his real love appears to be her brother, King Philip of France.

Portraying the young King Philip was Stephen Hyland, whose smoldering style seemed to be on the verge of eruption whilst retaining the tension in the character.

To complicate the plot even more, Alais is also the mistress of King Henry, who threatens to annul his marriage to Eleanor so he could marry Alais, thus making his three sons with Eleanor illegitimate.

It is the middle son Geoffrey, played by Justin Moreland, who is caught in the middle trying to make sure he is not forgotten in the mix. Moreland, who keenly understood the character, was the master of intrigue, mastering the ability to conspire both against and with all the parties to win favor.

With all the intrigue and conspiracy between all the players, one is gripped by the passion of the two principle players, Henry and Eleanor, whose profound love for each other in the end transcends their calumnies. Not only were the actors able to convey the torturous pain they inflicted upon each other, but how in the “winter of their lives” they were able to find peace through their love.

The Fauquier Community Theatre has a devoted following who has supported the theatre for over 40 years in 256 productions. Clearly, the actors have demonstrated extraordinary dedication to their work with the theater, in addition to being active in their own professional lives.

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