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Lion roars in Winston-Salem, Vanya opens in Greensboro

by Mark Burger

The Stained Glass Playhouse’s production of James Goldman’s acclaimed, award-winning historical drama The Lion in Winter will open this Friday at 4401 Indiana Ave., Winston-Salem.

The year is 1183, and the aging King Henry II is determined that the kingdom remain united after his death. Trouble is, each of his three sons — Richard, Geoffrey and John — covets the throne for himself. Henry tends to favor the youngest son, John. But Henry’s estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom he’s imprisoned (!), favors Richard, the oldest.

In an effort to keep England united, Henry and Eleanor must contend with the schemes of others — and put aside their own differences — in order to keep England united. Family squabbles take on a whole new dimension when the future of a nation is at stake!

“The Lion in Winter is a show we have been anticipating for some time,” said Alvin Tyndall, the chairman and artistic director of the Stained Glass Playhouse. “It is a delightful, even hilarious, look at one of the most dysfunctional families in history. It seems strange to witness people who trying to kill each other, while expressing their love at the same time.”

The show, he notes, boasts “wonderful characters that are intense and passionate [who] fill the stage at every situation.”

The original Broadway production, which opened in 1966, starred Robert Preston as Henry and won a Tony Award for his Eleanor, Rosemary Harris (one of Winston-Salem’s more famous residents, currently on Broadway again in My Royal Family Reunion) and marked an early stage role for a young Christopher Walken.

Two years later, Goldman adapted the play for the film version, starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, with early appearances by Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. The film was a critical and financial smash and earned seven Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), winning Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Actress for Hepburn.

The play’s durability was confirmed nearly 30 years later, with a 1999 Broadway revival for which Stockard Channing earned a Tony nomination, followed by a made-for-cable version in 2003 starring Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close, which earned six Emmy nominations (with a win for its costume design) and three Golden Globe nominations (with a win for Close).

Under the direction of Becky Burke, the Stained Glass Playhouse’s production of this complex tale stars Mike Burke as King Henry II and Stephanie Vaughan as Eleanor of Aquitane. Cameron Williams plays the prince Richard (later the king known as “Richard the Lionheart”), Matthew Morris as Geoffrey, Zac Hiatt as John, Rene Walek as Alais and Brandon Lloyd as King Philip of France, whose illicit involvement with Richard could spell catastrophe for the two nations.

Next up for the Stained Glass Playhouse is To Be Young, Gifted and Black, based on the life of playwright Lorraine Hansberry (author of A Raisin the Sun), which will be directed by Andre Minkins and will be presented in February to commemorate Black History Month, followed by Bill C. Davis’ Tony Award-winning comedy/ drama Mass Appeal, which Tyndall himself is directing and which will be presented in May.

The Lion in Winter will run through Nov. 22. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12 (general admission) and $10 (students and senior citizens). For reservations or more information, call 336.499.1010 or 336.661.4949.

The Theatre Studies Department at Guilford College also has a classic play about a dysfunctional family on tap to kick off its 2009-10 season: Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, which opens next Friday at Sternberger Auditorium, located in Founders Hall on the Guilford College campus (5800 W. Friendly Ave., Greensboro).

First produced in 1900 (under the direction of Stanislavski, no less!), the play focuses on a Russian family at a crossroads in their lives, attempting to come to terms with past failures and regrets while looking ahead to an uncertain future.

This production is directed by David Hammond, professor of Theatre Studies at Guilford, who notes: “The issues the family faces in the family include an uncertain economy, political change, failed dreams of success and destruction of the environment. Their world and their problems are strikingly similar to our own.”

The all-student cast includes Richard Rogers (in the title role), Ryan Furlough, Dustin Grimsley, Palmer Hicks, Allison Martin, Mary Pearl Monnes, Ben Storey, Alexandra Stroud and Nora Younes.

Uncle Vanya will run through Nov. 21. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and Thursday (Nov. 19 only). Tickets are $5 (general admission), $1 for Guilford students, faculty and staff members. For tickets or more information, call 336.316.2414 or see www.guilford.edu.

The Stained Glass Playhouse production of James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter brings drama and family dysfunction from the Middle Ages.

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