The Lion Roars at ASC

I know I have said it before but I ADORE Staunton, Va!

It has a Mayberry like historic downtown and some fantastic restaurants and of course the American Shakespeare Center.

Yesterday I ventured over there from Charlottesville  with a friend, stopping at the bucolic Pollack Winery along the way for a tasting and a relaxing chat on the veranda overlooking gorgeous rolling fields, a pond and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It was my first visit to Polloack and of the nine wines I tasted I liked the Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Meritage the best but I am uncertain if those were my exact favorites because I left my tasting notes on the tasting counter- a result of having tasted nine wines on an empty stomach.  We did get some yummy swiss to counter the tipsy effect but they only have french bread to go with it and I need a gluten free option.

Anyway, my companion purchased a bottle of Merlot and off we went to Staunton for dinner and a show.  The first thing I always do when I get to Staunton is stock up on my favorite granola in the world, Kazzies Granola.  You can only get it in Staunton because the guy that makes it lives there and he creates this delectable concoction of dried fruit, oats and seeds (maybe not oats, I don’t have the bag accessible at this time but whatever is in it is all yummilicious goodness).  So we stop into Cranberry’s Natural Foods and Cafe to pick up some Kazzie’s.  Once I am secure in my granola fix we walk a block to enjoy a fabulous dinner at Zynodoa before the show.  Zynodoa is a small version of a chic big city restaurant with food to rival any of the top chef’s around with a menu that features ingredients mostly (if not totally) curated from local farms.  My friend and I split a Mole Hill Bib Salad and the brined then grilled chicken breast.  See descriptions from the menu:

Mole Hill Garden Bibb Salad   8

shenvalley apple batons | oak spring dairy red wine derby
candied pecans | vinegar works shallot vinaigrette

Polyface Brined & Grilled Chicken   25

yellow squash & zucchini pancake | sauteed swiss chard
vinegar works sage gastrique


Fed and happy, we walked the half block to the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Theatre for THE LION IN WINTER the second play in their Summer “Wicked Good” Season.

The play was written by James Goldman and ran on Broadway for something like 83 performances (not many in Broadway lore) in 1966, is the depiction of a typical  family Christmas gathering amongst Franco-Anglo royals in 1183 from the pot Freud view point of the mid-twentieth century.  In other words, these people are MESSED UP, bitter, plotting, manipulating, and longing for love and affection with no glimmer of capacity to either give or accept it.

My take on the action: 

Older man who has taken on a hot young mistress who happens to have been raised in his home as his daughter (modern reference:Woody Allen) is lamenting over the death of his heir and trying to ensure his legacy is protected and that his favorite son, the youngest gets to be king after he dies.  His wife, wants her favorite son to be king instead and the middle child is left to whine about how nobody cares about him (contemporary reference for sibling dynamic: Downton Abbey).  The oldest son had a love affair with the mistress’s brother who happens to be the new King of France and is over for the holiday.  Everybody’s insecurities and egos are exposed as they are each played by the other to gain power, property and a general upper hand. Sounds like fun, right?

What worked for me:

  • Gregory Jon Phelps as the middle son, Geoffrey:  He simply personified that middle child resentment and longing to be special.  His line delivery was spot on in its tone and irony and he was just great in the part.  He totally made the most of it without being obnoxious or upstaging.
  • The costumes:  were beautiful and well chosen for the different characters.
  • Rene Thornton as Philip, King of France:  He is regal yet just as nasty as the rest of the characters.  Thornton plays him with a finesse that makes him stand apart.


  • Historical Inaccuracies:  This is the fault of Goldman not ASC. Syphilis is mentioned but my theater buddy pointed out (correctly, I checked) that it was unknown in Europe until over 300 years later when Columbus’ crewmen brought it back with them from the New World. The other is the reference to Christmas trees.  Christmas trees were not a part of English or French Christmas customs until the early 19th century or even in Germany before the 1400’s at the earliest. It is in the script so what are they gonna do?
  • Casting issues: Tracy Hostmyer makes a great Eleanor of Aquitaine throwing out barbs with stealth and working some good chemistry with her King Henry (James Keegan- not his best work, I am sad to say.  I just didn’t buy into him for some reason.) but she looks awfully young for the role. John Harrell as the youngest prince, John- Harrell is a great actor but the boy is supposed to be 16.  There are younger men in the company who may have been better choices for the role this go around. Tracie Thomason as Alais- Thomason lacks voice and tends to deliver almost every line with a  breathy flat cadence that almost drove me insane.  I felt zero chemistry between her and Keegan which is sort of key to the madness of Alais being  played with  like a chess piece.

Overall opinion:

This is a tough play.  The plot twists and turns and the characters along with it.  I can only imagine the cacophony of inner dialog that must go on in the actor’s heads to be dizzying as the show goes on.  It is also relentless in its revelation of the ugliness of human nature (greed and lack of moral compass in particular), a two hour marathon of emotionally charged slings and arrows which can be exhausting to watch. The content is charged as well in this little geographic corner of conservatism adultery, promiscuity, hints of incest, and the possibility of an non-consentual homosexual relationship without much humor to keep the audience from slitting their own wrists in despair by the end.  But it makes sense to produce it as the modern play during the summer season as a prequel to KING JOHN which will be part of the fall season.  It is worth seeing but you might want to space out seeing this alongside THE MERCHANT OF VENICE which is also a hard hitting production bearing no good guys in the end.

 Tracy Hostmyr and James Keegan in THE LION IN WINTER- photo courtesy of American Shakespeare Center

Create a free website or blog at