Mining the Script

Oct 2 • ARTSY SMARTSY, Theater1 Comment

The print version of this article states answers from Sam Jessup; encore regrets this error. Rob Mann is the director of “The Lion in Winter” and all answers are courtesy of Mann.

The Lion in Winter
10/4-7, 11-14, 18-21, 8 p.m.
Sunday matinees, 3 p.m.
Cape Fear Playhouse • 613 Castle St.
$18-$20 • bigdawgproductions.org

“It’s like ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ or ‘Harold and Maude,’” Rob Mann says about opening James Goldman’s “The Lion in Winter” this week. “People take great delight in doing and saying some very horrible things to each other.”

Having scored a Tony after its 1966 run and then an Academy Award after being made into a 1968 film, featuring the incomparable Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, the story has been likened to an historical drama following the king of England, and his wife and children among the dysfunctionality of family life and country rule. Though much of the dialogue and actions aren’t necessarily based in historical facts, it nonetheless remains dark in its humor and appealing to modern-day audiences.

“It is extremely well written—everything is there for a reason,” Mann explains. “The characters are intelligent, everyone has their own motivations for what they do and why. This gives a great base to build upon as actors, designers, directors, etc. There is a lot that goes on within the show, both on the surface, as well as underlying motivations and intents, so you have to be on your toes and pay attention in order to catch everything—it is this challenge that makes it a fun and rewarding project.”

Starring Rick Forrester (Henry II), Belinda Bizic Keller (Eleanor of Aquitaine), Hank Toler (Richard Coeur), Zack Pappas (Geoffrey), Chase Harrison (John), Ashley Grantham (King Philip of France) and Rachel Helms (Princess Alais), the cast brings vast range, natural inhabitation, and especially power to flesh out their characters. “Eleanor has the most difficult journey of all of the characters in the show,” Mann explains, “and Belinda brings a mix of resignation and simultaneous hope that captures Eleanor’s essence. Additionally, she and Rick have a great chemistry together.”

We spoke more in depth about “The Lion in Winter,” which opens Thursday as part of a pay-what-you-can night at Cape Fear Playhouse (with a minimum of $5); otherwise, tickets are $18-$20. The show runs through October 21st, Thursday through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.

encore (e): Though set in the royal hierarchy of England, how can modern-day audiences connect with this show?
Rob Mann (RM): They say it is a thin line between love and hate, but in the world of “The Lion in Winter” you could go so far as to say that line does not exist at all, and that, in actuality, they both come from the same emotional space. It is this dichotomy that makes the show still as relevant today as it was when first produced. It has not aged a day with regard to message despite the intervening years.

The overall themes are universal and timeless. The medieval setting allows it to weather social changes that have occurred in the last 50-odd years while still remaining relevant and sounding true. Almost everyone knows the joy of love, the pain of rejection and loss, and the thrill of winning, so the audience connection part is actually very easy … if we do our jobs right.

e: Tell me a bit about the relationships here between mother, father and children; mistress and family—why they’re so captivating.
RM: Almost all of the relationships in the show are very complicated; the exception being the love affair between Henry and Alais and even that has its own set of complications. The show asks a lot of questions about the nature of love (and its antithesis, hate), and like in real life, there are no easy answers.

Why does a parent favor one child over another? Why do we hurt the ones we love the most? What would you do to hold on to something between you and another person that is already gone? I would posit that the reason it is so captivating is that everything that occurs is so easily recognizable, and to one degree or another, they are things everyone has experienced. Also, the show has a very definite sense of humor that breaks the seriousness into easily digestible chunks and provides for a very entertaining ride.

e: This was also a 1968 film; will the stage production parallel it?
RM: I have actually never seen the movie except in a couple of snippets, so any parallels are either coincidental or a direct result of the writing.

e: What has been the most difficult and rewarding aspects in directing?

RM: Biggest challenge: The script is very smart, and it is peopled (for the most part) by very intelligent people who are in conflict with one another (and sometimes within themselves). Almost every line has the potential to mean what it says, to mean the opposite, to carry multiple meanings. Characters lie, manipulate, scheme, and even sometimes tell the truth, so peeling back all of the layers and being able to change tactics on a dime is of supreme importance, and is not something everyone can do.

In certain ways we are literally mining the script, in that every time we discover something of relevance it spurs on further digging and discovery. I don’t know if it is possible to truly ever figure every single instance out no matter how long you’d rehearse or run the show.

The most rewarding aspect is hands down the cast. Not only is it a talented group, but everyone is hard working and easy to get along with. They all truly want to bring out the best in themselves and each other, and it has made for productive and fun rehearsals. The only drama that’s happening is occurring on the stage.

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One Response to Mining the Script

  1. The writer James Goldman has contrived historic characters in such a modern way, they cannot possibly have existed. They are certainly American and definitely are not French. As Rob Mann points out, the lines are so brilliantly sparse, that the actors must interpret them as a working cast, but not be so biased as to rob the audience of all the many rich meanings. That takes intelligence. The action turns on lines that are breathtaking, and a vehicle for The Lion in Winter to say modern family dysfunctionality is medieval.

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