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A play fit for a king – The Villager

This is what soap operas could be like - if they were ever well-written.
For that is what the Village Players' latest offering, "A Lion in Winter" really is: a disarmingly witty soap opera masquerading as drama.

It's full of realized lust and thwarted passions. There are rebellious sons and grand schemes; planned marriage, illicit loves and kingdoms at stake!
The time is Christmas, 1183; the place, King Henry's castle at Chinon, France. King Henry, his wife, his mistress, his three sons and the young King of France are gathered together for a series of negotiations that will affect the lives of thousands - for they are battling for the succession to Henry's throne.

Henry, for his part, has no intention of giving it up, rather he wishes to ensure that is passes to the son of his choice, John. Unfortunately nearly everyone else has different ideas, and, to put it bluntly, John is a wimp, a nerd and something of a simp. But he's determined.
Watching the byzantine machinations of the characters as they manoever for the upper hand might have been enough, but playwright James Goldman had the good sense to endow the major protagonists with a scintillating wit - the kind that cuts till you cry.
Under the direction of Charles Northcote (he directed "Everything But Anchovies" at the Playhouse this last summer,) the cast sparkled, keeping pace with Goldman's rapid fire wit and never losing sight of the convoluted plot line.

I could fill the page with examples of Goldman's wit, but as I look at the quotes I hurriedly scribbled in the dark theatre I see that the lines themselves acquire their bite, their venom and punch through the timing and modulation of the actors.

For example; The queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, stumbles on her three sons together in a room. her opening line to them is simply "My little piglets...." Not a stunning line. But Joan Cammick's sardonic manner, the way she tossed off the line (as though she was casting pearls of wit before swine,) caught the audience by surprise and they roared with laughter - I missed her next two lines.

Ken Brown, as King Henry was equal to the task, conveying the bewildering package of charisma, cunning and pigheadedness that is Goldman's Henry II.
The pair worked beautifully together, but happily the player didn't rest on their laurels alone. The rest of the cast was a well-rounded collection of craftsmen who carried their roles off with aplomb. From Steven Jacklin's glowering Richard to David Agro's fastidiously slimy Geoffrey, they were a treat.

Deserving of special mention is Amanda Tapping appearing for the first time on a stage of this stature. Her Alias, Henry's young mistress, was a cool portrait of a woman in love with a man who was both father and lover to her.

"The Lion in Winter" continues till the end of the week and is worth the investment.
(The Village Playhouse, Bloor West Village, Toronto)
"Children of a Lesser God"

Produced by the University players at Essex Hall, University of Windsor.
Directed by Diana Mady Kelly.

Children of a Lesser God put the sound of silence on the stage, opening the audience's eyes as well as their ears.

The natural drama of sign language helped Mark Medoff's otherwise strong play to major success.

The hands of the deaf woman and her teacher/lover soar through their duel in a private language full of expressiveness and lyric economy. Any actor must yearn for such expanded body language.

It gives arresting visual substance to Medoff's compact story of love and pain.
He surrounded the lovers with biting humor and fundamental conflict, where personal attraction made frequent connection with issues touching everyone.
The University Players have done right by such valuable material.
Uncluttered and focused their production speaks with eloquent hands.
Or at least the emotion is there, whatever the actual fluency in sign language the students have learned.

Surrounded by an effectively blank set - nothing but a couple of neutral benches and sometimes a blackboard - Amanda Tapping and Craig Eldridge enact a romance where the eternal theme of submission and transformation must be put into motions as well as words.
She is the deaf-school inmate who protects herself by relying exclusively on sign language. He is the restless teacher who wants to reach out by teaching her to speak and read lips.
He thinks he is helping; she thinks he is pitying. he thinks he wants to know her better; she thinks he is taking away her independence; he thinks she can be more independent when she can communicate with the hearing world; she thinks the hearing world will always consider her handicapped.

Those themes spin tightly around their private space, where they learn even more achingly than most couples that intimacy and independence don't always sleep together so soundly.
Both sides of the dialogue, literally and figureatively, must be delivered by Eldridge; he has all the lines, translating his partner/opponents's thoughts as well as his own.
His eagerness and ironic humor are essential because they draw the couple together, although Eldridge (and the whole cast) hurry a little too quickly to anger, rarely slowing to let their thinking show.

Tapping, silent as a mime, catches the tantalizing perplexities of her defensively angry woman, wonderfully. She's tall and blonde but a bit gawky, suggesting the vixen sexuality that was the only way the teenage girl could meet boys her own age, and soaking up a firm residue of bitterness.

They get cohesive support, particularly the crusading student of Lorne Perlmutar, scornful headmaster Mark Lefabvre and flighty non-crusading student Hillary Cunningham.
The ensemble avoids turning Medoff's arguments on communciation versus conformity into either rant or sermon. Resolved rather differently than the movie, the play deserves a compliment that shouldn't be taken for granted; it seems to run just about the right length of time. A good sign indeed.

The players plan a performance at the end of the run with an interpretor for the hearing-impaired.
Lesser God – A Major Success – The Windsor Star