The Lion in Winter at The Summer Company | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Lion in Winter at The Summer Company

Many components work quite well on their own, just not all together.

Clash of the seasons! Clash of the titans! Clash of the colors?

The Summer Company tackles The Lion in Winter with mixed results, ambitiously over-producing a modern classic.

For fans of James Goldman's 1966 play — about a Plantagenet Christmas that features the plots and conspiracies within the family of King Henry II — it is satisfying to hear the words delivered with various measures of aplomb. But this Lion creaks and groans. The pacing should be like a duel: careful parrying, a quick thrust, a studied retreat. Lion is about boldness, even ruthlessness. But while the king and queen (John E. Lane Jr. and Jill Jeffrey, respectively) spar with spark, their princes seem distanced from the drama. Among the youngsters, Anthony Chase Gullikson does put some fire into the French king, and Greta Englert shows her claws as Henry's kittenish mistress.

Usually the Summer Company excels in creating atmosphere, but director Jacob Wadsworth needed someone to coordinate the entire look of the production. Too many incompatible shades of red — gowns, scenery, props, Ms. Englert's lovely hair — distract mightily from the first act. And laborious scene changes (do we really need all that furniture?) don't help the dramatic flow.  

Many of Lion's components work quite well on their own, just not all together. Lane (also a Company founding producer) is a towering, powerful Henry. Jeffrey displays the nuances and complexities of Goldman's Eleanor of Aquitaine. Catherine Rhon's "tapestries" add a regal touch, and not a lot more is really needed in TJ Firneno's mostly lovely but overdone set design. And while Kim Brown (of Spotlight Costumes) is spot-on with the men's outfits, the ladies look like prog-rock singers.

Gloriously anachronistic with whiplash dialogue teetering between high drama and situation comedy, The Lion in Winter delivers laughs and the occasional punch.

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