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Theater Review (Queens, NY): The Lion in Winter

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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.

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About Hannah Marie Ellison

  • Wow. But what did you really think?

  • I agree with Jon, Hannah!

    If you disliked the production so much, why didn’t you just walk out?

  • melinda

    The reads more like a personal attack than a review.

  • Little Big Man

    Hey, if she didn’t like it, she’d didn’t like it. People are entitled to their opinion.

    It must have been REALLY bad!

  • The Almighty Dogg

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read a really good bad review. I love a good trashing.

  • Rutledge

    Melinda, you aren’t allowed to write personal attacks according to the comment box! I do recommend the movie, of course. Maybe Hannah expected to see that instead of a new rendition. You can never be sure how one reviewer will see a play… or if they actually saw it at all.

  • I’m always impressed by how readers react to negative reviews. Melinda (#3) says this one “reads more like a personal attack than a review.” Her reaction is typical, especially on the Internet, where we prefer write-ups that conform to our own preconceptions. We’d much rather read a glowing report of an absolutely atrocious production than a truthful account of what the reviewer experienced. Timothy J. Cox (#2) asks, “If you disliked the production so much, why didn’t you just walk out?” Assuming that Mr. Cox would endorse the axiom that no one should review a play that she has not seen, what he’s really saying is, “Shut your mouth.” Pretty intolerant, if you ask me.

  • Timothy J. Cox

    No, I didn’t say that at all. Besides, I happen to know Ms. Ellison pretty well. My comment to her was not a condemnation of the review, but a feeling similarly expressed in “Little Big Man’s” comment.

  • Johnny

    First and foremost, I must admit that I delight in a good drubbing as much as, and perhaps more than, your average fellow. I consider myself to be exacting, and expect if I paying to see something, it will be worth it. In that respect alone, I could reasonably be expected to have enjoyed your ‘review’ of Parkside’s production of ‘The Lion in Winter’. I confess I did enjoy some of your other reviews, particularly your commentary on the reproduction of ‘The Lion in Winter’ wherein you took issue with both Sir Patrick Stewart and the set design of a fully funded production studio as not being a letter perfect match to the original 1968 movie, which, by the end of the four pages(if not, to be fair, the first sentence) reveals itself to have a special place in your heart.

    However, as both a theater-goer(of community, off, and on-Broadway productions) and a longtime member of Parkside, I do have to take some issues with your critique. It is plain that you adore the original film adaptation (philistine that I am, I do not, nor am I particularly partial to the script on which it is based, though that is not the matter at hand) and you seem somewhat chagrined that Parkside lacked AVCO Embassy and Hawthorn Production’s resources. This is true. The company does not have those resources.

    My issue with your ‘review’ however, is not that it seems your love of the 1968 movie may have doomed this production in your eyes from the get go, as I myself am frequently guilty of doing the same thing. My issue is that you do not offer any actual examples of that which you disliked. While you mention many things(I half expected to find at least a sentence dedicated to a perceived lack of quality in the concessions) that you found inadequate or inept, you don’t then go on to say what led you to feel this way. You say the direction was inept, without a single example of what was mis-directed(perhaps you felt Kevin Schwabs blocking wasn’t stellar, or maybe his interpretation ran contrary to your belief of the author’s intent?). You mention that no attention was paid to a set, but not why you felt that way(were the walls too grey, or perhaps the columns weren’t to your liking? Was the representation of stone blocks too large?), and perhaps most tellingly to your mood when composing the piece, you bash the lighting, which kept the players illuminated throughout, and as such, accomplished it’s intended goal admirably. I do not even want to address the treatment of individual actors, as I felt it was somewhat over the top, and again, lacking even an example of what offended so deeply, and could thereby justify an incredibly mean spirited personal attack.

    I understand the “wrath” generated by something that grates, and, as another aside, enjoyed your article on why bad theater puts you in a bad mood, as it tends to ruin my entire night when inflicted on me as well. Yet is completely possible to dislike something for legitimate reasons, and to illustrate them in a clear, logical, and non-vindictive manner, and it is necessary to do so in order to have something move from ‘bashing’ into the realm of ‘review’. My feelings towards your piece (that it was both rude and lacking in evidence to back up your claims), which I have gone out of my way to present in a far more organized and detailed way than you had the courtesy to do in your ‘review’ of The Lion in Winter is a solid example of this technique.

  • Johnny

    Also, I apologize for the typo on the second line, which should read “I consider myself to be exacting, and expect if paying to see something, it will be worth it.”

  • Alison

    Thank you, Johnny, for your thoughtful and concise comments to this woman’s ridiculous “review.” I hope the word “ridiculous” is not considered a personal attack because I’d hate to offend. As a board member of Parkside Players, I would just like to extend my gratitude to Ms. Ellison for her patronage. As stated in our program, it will aid us in continuing to provide quality community theatre.

  • Genny

    Yes, it was a shame that you harped on both the movie and Broadway production. You must remember, community theater groups do not have the luxury of long rehearsal times nor the resources for magnificent sets or costumes. Parkside Players have been in existence for 30 years. It has been my privilege to be both a former board member and invovled in some aspect of their players for approximately 25 years. You were not specific in your critisim of the show. The next time, try to keep an open mind and point out both the good and the bad about the show you are seeing and not compare it so much with previous incarnations.

  • The problem with community theatre or limited engagement show reviews and why I don’t like reading or writing them is that its just one person’s opinion. But unfortunately, it can ruin a show if that one person with a blog and a few words feels the show is no good (however qualified they feel they may be to write said review.) That said, I think any group would be insane to invite reviewers to community theatre shows…being that most are often (though not always) amatuer productions with limited resources. Too bad for Parkside that this reviewer approached this review from the perspective of someone seeing a Broadway show. The good thing is that I never would have even read this review if someone hadn’t told me about this website in the first place. To Parkside: best to keep the review secret and focus on pleasing your core audience (most of whom probably don’t even realize this blog exists.) To the reviewer: realize what this is and comment accordingly. I’ve rarely seen a production (professional or otherwise) that I couldn’t trash if I really wanted to. Comparing this production to a Hollywood film or Broadway production was just not right. And the rest of you…maybe its best to just take the high road and completely ignore this review. Print out a more positive one (or just write your own) and post it all over Forest Hills. It is the same thing!

  • well, the “same thing,” but more beneficial to YOU! LOL

  • Paul Marinelli

    I didn’t get the feeling that the reviewer approached this production, as Roger G says, “from the perspective of someone seeing a Broadway show,” but as someone who was upset at having their time wasted, which I can relate to.

    No matter the level, if people don’t deliver the goods, than it should piss you off.

    In this case…it’s quite obvious that this production pissed her off!

  • Lady Claire

    The review was definitely amusing, but to be on the receiving end of that couldn’t have been fun.

    Reviews have always been a funny thing to me. As an actress, I have been fortunate to receive good reviews and yes, I have received bad reviews. They don’t have any effect on me either way, but then again, everybody is different.

    I do agree with Paul that no matter the level, you still need to put the work in..so it’s something that you’d be proud to have people come and see.

  • Yurfulla Shiite

    C’mon. Stop comparing community theatre to Broadway.