“The Lion in Winter” is coming to the Lafayette Society for Performing Arts, beginning Thursday and running through May 11.
Directed by LSPA veteran Jeff Sargent, the stage brings a darker drama than recent shows put on by the company.
Featuring the historical figure King Henry II of England, the play follows Henry’s political conflict with his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and their children during the Christmas of 1183. Although the characters are real, the action and plot is fiction.
The play was written by James Goldman in 1966.
Though the play is considered a comedy, Sargent said the genre is not quite as easy to pin down.
“The play doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy or drama,” he said.
Sargent, who usually dabbles in comedic plays, said he wanted to do something with a little “meat and ‘taters” that will challenge the actors.
“Audiences here love the farce and the slapstick and we’re going to continue to do those kind of things, but we want to challenge the audience as well,” Sargent said.
Ben Sasser plays Henry II. Sasser also played the lead in the most recent production of “The Foreigner.”
Shawn Morvay plays the role of Geoffrey, the scheming and power-hungry middle son of Henry II. Morvay said “The Lion in Winter” is unlike plays done previously by the LSPA.
“This one is a full on drama and, although it has some funny moments, the majority of it is pretty dark,” Morvay said.
Molly Fitzsimmons, no stranger to the LSPA, will reprise a role she played 20 years ago at the Pentacle Theater in Salem, Oregon – the role of Eleanor.
“It is an actress’ role for sure,” she said.
Sargent said Eleanor’s role was the only one he precasted specifically for Fitzsimmons.
Fitzsimmons said Eleanor is one of her favorite roles she has ever played and still finds the role fun and challenging 20 years later.
“I have a better understanding of her issues with aging and mortality,” she said.
Fitzsimmons added that Eleanor’s character has the bulk of the best dialogue,
“Another reason to covet the role,” she said.
Randy Powell, who plays Richard, joins “The Lion in Winter” in his second acting role ever. Powell began acting last year after being a regular LSPA viewer.
Anna Howington plays Alais in her fifth LSPA production. Howington, 21, is a student at LaGrange College where she studies music and theater.
LaGrange High School student Ian Turner, 16, plays Philip in his second play and first major role at the LSPA.
“It’s much more professional working with the LSPA,” Turner said. “Jeff is a fantastic director and the whole cast is just fun.”
The play will also feature Josh McWhorter in the role of John.
“These guys are real pros and they have made the process easy,” Sargent said. “They are malleable and very intelligent.”
Regular audiences of LSPA will notice a raised stage, which will be a permanent fixture in the black box.
Sargent said raising the stage was completed after viewer feedback for better visibility. He also said it will encourage the fourth-wall concept of separating the actors and audience.
“The Lion in Winter” will run Thursday to Saturday and May 9 to 10 at 7:30 p.m., and May 11 at 2:30 p.m.