The Parkside Players is a community theater group which has been bringing affordable live theater to the Forest Hills community since 1981. Located at the Grace Lutheran Church on the corner of Union Turnpike and 71st Road (just south of Metropolitan Ave.), the Parkside Players produces three shows per year.
Their latest production is a revival of James Goldman's fantastic comedy/drama The Lion in Winter, which takes place at Christmas in 1183 England and tells the tale of King Henry II (Gordon Innes), who wants his sulky 17-year-old son John (Victor Starsky) to be king. Eleanor (Rosemary Innes), Henry’s cast-off wife, prefers their eldest, the soldierly Richard (Jimmy O'Neill). Nobody wants crafty son Geoffrey (Francesco LoJacono) — and if you’re a stray woman ensnared in all of this, like Henry’s young mistress Alais (Claudia Goncalves), you’d best watch out.
It had been some time since I had seen a production of Goldman's play, so I was really looking forward to heading out to Forest Hills to see the show. It was about a decade ago, I believe, when I saw Laurence Fishburne and Stockard Channing, two exceptional actors, star in the roles of Henry and Eleanor on Broadway. As good as they were, they were no match for the stars of the magnificent film version from 1968, Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn (who won an Oscar for her performance). The film version is also notable for the film debut of future Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, who excelled in his debut as Richard. If you're an actor and you've never seen the film, directed by the great Anthony Harvey, I highly recommend you adding it to your NetFlix queue now, as it is a master class in acting. If you're a budding screenwriter or playwright looking for inspiration, then study this text (James Goldman won a richly deserved Oscar for the adaptation of his own play).
You may be wondering why I'm talking so much about the 1968 film. Well, it certainly beats the alternative…talking about the Parkside Players' poor, in every way, revival of the play, which opened this past weekend.
This is a play about intellects savoring a chess game with human emotions — one in which they never forget that life and death, kingdoms, and history itself are at hazard. It's fast and funny, but also cunning and brutally honest. And yes, the script is awash in witty dialogue, but Goldman didn't mean it all to be played like a moronic episode of must-see TV, which is how I felt halfway through my viewing of the production in Forest Hills.
In over three decades of theatre-going, sure, I've seen some less than stellar productions (professional and amateur), but in those less than stellar productions, there was always at least one thing…a single performance maybe, that made the experience somewhat memorable. For example, in 1968, I saw the play Does A Tiger Wear a Necktie? in Manhattan. The play was lousy, but I couldn't take my eyes off a young actor named Al Pacino, who was extraordinary, even though the play was not.
The production of The Lion in Winter at the Parkside Players didn't have anything for me to enjoy, as it was ineptly staged and directed by Kevin Schwab, with no real attempt to take the audience back to 1183 England. No attention was paid to even a passable set. The same must be said for the costumes, even the lighting design.
As for the performances, none was memorable save for that of Ms. Innes, who was so terrible that it wasn't boring. I actually got fixated staring at her and wondering what she and director Schwab thought she was doing.
In a way, my hat is off to the Parkside Players: It takes a certain talent to present a production this bad.
James Goldman's marvelous play deserves much, MUCH better than this.
Now you know why I was talking up the movie so much!
The Lion in Winter closes on March 6th.Powered by Sidelines