Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, "The Lion in Winter"

Easter Sunday afternoon, we went to the Broadway Theatre Center's Cabot Theatre for MCT's production of "The Lion in Winter," a play we are both very fond of. This was a co-production between Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and Marquette University, so we had the somewhat unusual situation of college theater students sharing the stage with seasoned professionals Brian Mani, Tracy Michelle Arnold, and Marcus Truschinski, all veterans of American Players Theater and other professional groups. The difference in experience was generally noticeable although not equally so.

Of course, the play generally belongs to the characters of Henry (Mani) and Eleanor (Arnold), so as long as you have two skilled actors to carry those loads, you are going to have a pretty good show. Mani was very good as the growling, roaring, demanding, manipulative Henry, although I thought he could have done a bit better on some of those scenes where he is shown to be vulnerable. Tracy Michelle Arnold was excellent as Eleanor, playing chess against Henry with their children and desperately trying to make a stalemate out of her losing position.

Oddly enough, it was two of the professionals, Truschinski as Richard Lionheart, and Lenny Banovez as Geoffrey, that I was least satisfied with. Truschinski's Richard was comparatively one-dimensional and very stone-faced, as though the portrayal were based entirely upon Richard's line that he had no sense of humor and extrapolated to having few other feelings as well. Banovez' smiling and smarmy Geoffrey was a distinct departure from other portrayals, and, not, I think, a good one. It made Geoff lose his dangerousness and resentment, which is important to this character. Since these were very fundamental decisions about how the roles are played, I wonder how much of this should be laid at the door of director C. Michael Wright, rather than the individual actors.

J. Patrick Cahill as John was the standout among the student actors: his snotty and surly prince was very naturalistic and fit in well with the characterizations given by Mani and Arnold. Alexandra Bonesho, whom we had seen and enjoyed as "Cherry" in The Beaux' Strategem, was a bit too declamatory delivering her lines as Alais, but otherwise not bad at all. Joe Pichetti in the admittedly difficult role of Philip of France, needed to ramp up his emotions a notch on all fronts. Being tall and handsome is all to the good, but we really needed to see more charm, more fire, and more spite from him

MCT provided a monumental set that had the apparent heaviness and solidity of genuine Norman castle architecture and played really well. Costumes and makeup were generally period appropriate and good-looking, if you accept that Richard's ring-reinforced jerkin (an antiquated style for noblemen even then) was intended to be more decorative than functional. The one exception was the costume given John (inspired by the recent television production starring Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close). Although we are told in the script that John has poor personal hygiene (Alais: "He smells like compost!") and he might well be careless in his dress, I can't believe that would come to a royal holiday celebration dressed like a stable hand and with obvious dirt on his face.

Overall, the strengths of the production greatly outweighed it's faults, and we enjoyed it very much.

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Tags: history, theatre
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