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Mrs. K and I traveled up to Carmel last Friday night for the opening night performance of The Lion in Winter by James Goldman. CCP’s season opener is directed by Brent Wooldridge and presents an outstanding cast performing what to me is an unfulfilling script.

As I say, the problem is not the cast. All involved took their characterizations to a high level. Mark Kamish takes the role of Henry II, King of England in 1183, and works through the many conflicts at hand with a marvelously wide depiction, showing Henry’s nature as a range of sentiments – from hale and humorous to tough and threatening.

His three sons Richard, Geoffrey and John are masterfully portrayed by Kyle A. Martin, Jay Hemphill and Jacob Swain, respectively. They offer a broad variance of characters with Martin – strong and stubborn as he vies for Richard’s rightful place in succession to the throne, Hemphill – mild yet calculating in Geoffrey’s quest for power, and Swain – spoiled and boyish as Henry’s choice to succeed him, John.

Susan Boilek Smith as Eleanor, Mark Kamish as Henry and Emma Kivett as Alais form an intriguing triangle in CCP's

Susan Boilek Smith as Eleanor, Mark Kamish as Henry and Emma Kivett as Alais form an intriguing triangle in CCP’s “The Lion in Winter”

Adding intrigue to the plot is Phillip, the youthful King of France, well played by John Parks Whitaker. Whitaker is quietly impressive as the peevish king, a pawn in Henry’s plans – in over his head as he deals with the wiles of his enemy. Emma Kivett, as Phillip’s sister and Henry’s lover Alais, turns in a brilliant performance. Ms. Kivett shows talent beyond her years (she is a high school senior) as she fully grasps the effects of her character’s hidden power potential.

Susan Boilek Smith shines in the role of Queen Eleanor, who has been let out of her prison cell (10 years or so ago, she tried to kill Henry) for the Christmas court. In a role filled with humor and conniving, Ms. Smith puts forth a deep, well-conceived and multi-faceted portrait of this complicated and original female. I have appeared onstage with Ms. Smith as well as having seen her perform on several occasions, and I believe this is her best work.

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All in all, this is a tremendous cast of actors, who do their best to tell the story, which in my opinion is flawed. The arc of the plot deals with the rivalry between Henry and Eleanor, as each one champions a different son for succession to the throne – Henry choosing the youngest, John, with Eleanor trying to push the oldest, Richard. This leaves Geoffrey out of the mix and he struggles to gain his best possible position of power. Adding to that the wants and needs of Phillip and Alais makes for a full menu of intrigue and deceit. But the scenario is not the problem.

The script problem for me is that, in my opinion, the various conflicts in this piece never really get any resolution. They are each presented in turn and then a devious solution is arrived at and then that solution is found to be lacking or is trumped by one intrigue or another. This form of action is just fine the first two or three times we are met with it. But after a while and on into the 2nd act, this devise is used again and again. The effect is we are left with none of these conflicts resolved and indeed at the end of the play we are nearly exactly where we began, albeit entertained. I am not sure why this is so unsatisfying to me – other than perhaps my theatre sense is expecting a resolution to be a part of the story’s outcome.

Bottom line: a marvelous cast presents a less than satisfying script with aplomb. Go to see the stellar performances.

The Lion in Winter continues at CCP’s Clay Terrace venue through October 11. Ticket information is available by going to http://www.carmelplayers.org or by calling 317.815.9387.

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