Editor's note: Adam King, who plays the King of France in First Presbyterian Theater's production of “The Lion in Winter,” wrote this for The News-Sentinel.
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, unless you're in Chinon, France, it's 1183, and you are King Henry II of England. James Goldman's comedic drama “The Lion in Winter,” which previews tonight at First Presbyterian Theater, is based loosely on historical accounts, delving deeply into the psychology of what it really means to be powerful, what it really means to be in control and what it really means to be a family. Henry's family meets to settle an almost two-decade-long score and decide which of Henry's three sons will be the next king of England.
As Henry exclaims at one particularly heated moment, “Power is the only fact,” but Kate Black, a First Presbyterian Theater regular who plays Henry's banished queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, sees more than mere power at the heart of this story.
“Love is at the heart of this play,” Black explains. “Power is critical, certainly, but the love between Henry and Eleanor, the history, the comfort and familiarity, even in the midst of the strife, is what drives the action.”
Bob Haluska, Black's real-life husband, plays the legendary king opposite Black, becoming “fascinated with Henry and his greatness and his all-too-human failings” during the process.
“The range of Henry's journey is incredible,” Haluska said. “He goes from being an able and just ruler of much of the known world to a harried husband and father to a lovesick puppy dog.”
Black mirrored her husband's thoughts about the range of complexity of this aging set of royals.
“Eleanor's complexity is a fascinating aspect of her character,” Black said. “It is the way in which she connects her love and yearning for control that really makes her interesting.”
Love and a certain yearning for control are aspects found in all the characters. Each of Henry's sons – Richard, played by Chad Kennerk, Geoffrey, played by Kevin Torwelle, and John, played by Maxwell Berger-Butler – vie for the crown and attempt to circumvent Henry and Eleanor's plans about who should rule.
Throw in Henry's mistress, Alais, played by Meagan Matlock, who has plans of her own, as well as the young French king, Philip, played by Adam King, who will prove to be more of a thorn in Henry's side than the aging king could have imagined, and Goldman creates a wonderful story about dysfunctional families – in this case, a royally dysfunctional family.
“This dark comedy is about people who are willing to get what they want through any means necessary,” Torwelle said. “All involved are willing to sacrifice anything or anyone: family, friends or any shred of morality to get what they want. They are willing to destroy what is our greatest gift: our family.”
“The Lion in Winter,” directed by Ranae Butler, previews tonight and runs through Jan. 19.