JACKSONVILLE — On its face, a play as complex as "The Lion Of Winter" might seem too daunting for a young Jacksonville College theatre cast to fully embrace.
On the other hand, it might also be a story whose time has come – best told, perhaps, to a 21st century audience.
In all, the cast of Jacksonville College's recent version of this play, which was performed this month, did an admirable job of illustrating this game of mental chess between cunning and cutthroat family members.
What's going on here? Does the plot revolve around something as simple as family squabbles, spurned lovers and insane rivalries? Or is there something deeper, more interconnected, going on?
Only Henry II, King of England, knows. And he's totally not telling.
Rob Carter, a co-director of the play, portrays King Henry II, and does a yeoman's job in this role. He is easy to follow into the story and fun to watch at the tale evolves toward its resolution.
Will there ever be an actual heir to the throne? Only King Henry knows!
Thinking about it, 2013 certainly does seem like a good time for a dramatization of the stressful relationships and personal politics of a royal family.
Since this story takes place at a time before modern entertainment such as television, social media or cell phones even existed, who could feel their pain better than us? The horror!
With no movies to watch or no one to Tweet with or call, what's a poor king to do?
Play dangerous and deadly mind games with his family?
Simply by virtue of its material, James Goldman's 1966 play has all the snark one would need for an amazing, modern-day reality TV show. Or perhaps even a compelling television drama along the lines of the original "Dallas."
The Jacksonville College students who performed the play at JC's Buckner Chapel Oct. 24-26 really made use of the rich materials with which they were provided.
This play – set during Christmas 1183 at Henry II of England's castle in Chinon, Anjou, Angevin Empire – does not seem easy for co-directors Rob Carter and Candise Stewart to pull off. But they totally do.
Perhaps one of the best signs of a successful play on the college level is when members of the cast are nominated for Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship awards scholarships.
Both Candise Stewart, who in addition to co-directing also portrayed Henry II's wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine and David Durrett, who played Richard Lionheart, share this distinction. They will participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival next year.
Candise Stewart, meanwhile, is very compelling to watch as Henry's scheming wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who the king has had imprisoned for quite a while.
Henry's son Richard The Lionheart, as played by Durrett, has a very powerful focused anger that comes across well – worthy of a character who excels at war and is the strongest of the three princes.
(Durrett's performance is an an interesting contrast to Stewart's, whose very deliberate icy manipulative demeanor is – there's no other word for it – chilling.)
Will Foreman does a magnificent job as middle son Geoffrey. He projects a mixture of anger and cunning that bounces off Durrett's Richard very well.
Johanna Cyrer, a female actor, crosses gender lines to play John, the youngest son of Henry and Eleanor. Cryer does a great job as the petulant, spoiled young prince who expects his father's kingdom to be handed over to him
Alais, played by Sandy McInTyre, is the half sister of Phillip II, the family's Christmas Court guest and the King of France, McInTyre was very good at projecting the sense of fear someone in her precarious position — trapped in the clutches of crazy royal family — probably would have felt.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Words are being chosen carefully to describe the performance of Jake Tinsley, the student actor who portrayed Phillip II.
Young Jake, you see, is the son of the writer whose theater review you are currently reading. And this writer does not want to leave anyone with the impression of preferential treatment.
Simply put: Tinsley is a keeper. He is very young and very new to theater. But he is a comedy enthusiast and obviously very pumped about his craft. That strong energy and enthusiasm showed in his performance.
"The Lion In Winter" premiered on Broadway at the Ambassador Theatre on March 3, 1966. It was adapted into an eponymous Academy Award-winning 1968 film and even later into a made-for-TV 2003 film starring Patrick Stewart and Glen Close.
The play is fictional and the plot and dialogue a tad anachronistic. (However, anyone who enjoyed Heath Ledger's "A Knight's Tale" might agree that sometimes complete and utter authenticity is not absolutely necessary.)
It's really fun how the story – WARNING! SPOILERS!! – ends.
Basically the reset button is pushed and everything goes back to the way it began. Eleanor goes back to prison, the three princes are still fighting over who shall be king, Alais finds herself again in the center of it all and there is no clearly chosen successor to the throne.
Yup. My take on the play is this: In an age with few actual forms of entertainment, starting a big honking fight full of intrigue with dangerous AND ARMED members of your family sounds like an interesting – if potentially deadly – distraction for a cunning king.
But if there are no clear winners in this fight, then a king can play the game again at some point in the future to stave off boredom.
As a matter of fact, who's to say he hasn't done it before?
Upcoming Jacksonville College events : • “The Hanging Of The Greens” Christmas Program with the music department takes place in the Buckner Chapel at 7 p.m. Dec. 3.
Ben Tinsley can be contacted by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 903-586-2236. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/bentinsley or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.