(2-13-23) In 1968 a film of this title came out starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. I may have seen it, but my memory doesn’t reach that far back. Director, Sarah Glover pushed VWCT hard to try to get them to put this show on their season and allow her to direct. She got her wish. Some weeks ago, I was at her auditions, and heard some of the script for the first time. I was impressed, both with the ideas portrayed and the talent amassed in the auditorium. Tonight, I was there for the opening night. I was not disappointed. The play is a full length python, which wraps itself around the viewer squeezing him tighter and tighter with its intricacies, subterfuges, and betrayals. We get to the end, absolutely bewildered by the twists and turns, wondering who is going to kill whom. A very heady story.
Henry II, king of England has imprisoned his wife, and taken, as a lover, Alais, the daughter of his dead friend, the king of France. He allows his wife a reprieve from her captivity for the Christmas Holiday. Henry is concerned about the line of succession, if and when he should die. He has three sons, one, the youngest and still a teen, John, is whom he desires to be his heir, but his wife, Eleanor wants the oldest remaining son, Richard. Neither want, middle son Geoffrey for this position, something that irks this bright young man. He pits the other two against each other, in his attempt to gain the favored position. Into this, comes the teen son of the deceased French King, now the king, himself, who has demands against Henry. Eleanor is also waist deep in the intrigue. The plots, sub plots, lies, and betrayals come fast and furious.
I will say that I seldom enjoy a longer-length play. But everything that happens in this one, keeps you alert, guessing, and angst-ing with the various characters. I had been warned that this was going to be a superior production, and I found that to be true. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire story. First, let me say how fabulous Sheila Chilcote-Collins is, as Eleanor. It’s a monster part, loaded with anguish, joy, fury and seventy-seven other deep emotions. Not the kind of role you give to a raw rookie. Ms. Chilcote-Collins is certainly no rookie. She had this audience spellbound with every speech, every movement, every emotion. She brings this character to life in a special way. She is a pleasure to watch.
Playing the other “royal”, King Henry, is veteran Doug Norton. I have seen Mr. Norton in multiple roles, always pivotal parts. He never fails to please. Again, this character has a huge and convoluted presence, with an inordinate amount of speeches. He handles all of these with terrific aplomb. He also must show the highs and lows of his character giving us self-pity, anger, frustration, and many others. His scenes with Ms. Chilcote-Collins were remarkable.
There were others who had to be standouts. The author, James Goldman, did not short any of the secondary characters. The three sons, Nicholas Patton as John, Josey Darrow as Geoffrey, and Alexander Blubaugh as Richard were the conniving cutthroats they needed to be. Blubaugh is a pro in everything he does. He is a large man whose presence commands respect if not fear. He definitely uses his body and voice to his advantage. Darrow is more low-key, a necessary treatment for the son no one really loves. But he can use his anger as well. The young man playing John, Mr. Patton, still a teen, is smaller in stature than his “brothers”. But I liked what he did with his voice and physical actions. He has been well-trained at various venues in the area. He has a bright future ahead. The King of France, Phillip, is played by Evan Joseph, a veteran of the VWCT and others. He is calm, and posed on stage, giving us a contrast to the manic princes. But he possesses emotional range, as well. Phillip’s sister Alais, the young mistress of Henry, is used by almost everyone as a pawn. Abby Delong portrays this waif as someone who only loves her man, and frightened that he will do as he promises others, and marry her off to Richard.
The plot twists in this play, alone, make it worth every second of your time. And all the subtleties and blows to the head pique your curiosity. How will ______ get out of this one? I want to add something. Our director Ms. Glover and several others have designed and delivered us a fantastic and eminently workable set. It is beautiful and functional. I particularly enjoyed how the ever-present candles lit the stage, even as it was being changed. Well placed, and a great idea. I know that I liked everything I saw, and fully recommend this play for any local theatres. The audience ate this up.
So, you still have seven chances to experience this period piece. Today, and tomorrow at 8, Sunday at 2pm, and next Thursday through Sunday. You can call the box office at Van Wert Civic during the day and make your reservations. Good luck and enjoy!