The first problem is that Goldman finds no moral significance in the struggle for succession which makes up most of the plot. As we watch Eleanor and Henry tangle over this issue, we look in vain for any clue that one son deserves it more than another. But no one does: Richard, Geoffrey and John are presented as egotistical brats who only want power for its own sake, and Henry and Eleanor are equally uninterested in good government or the fate of their subjects. With no reason to prefer one contestant over another, the central battle in Lion eventually becomes a meaningless dogfight, and we have to look elsewhere for a subject that touches us personally.Its not easy to find. For all the eloquence of Goldmans writing, nothing much changes over the two-and-a-half hours of his play. Theres almost a regicide, almost an infanticide, almost a marriage, almost an heir-designate the list of major events that are trumpeted and then dont happen stretches from first moment to last. And when I say trumpeted, I mean trumpeted: there are more shouting matches in this play than in a dozen others combined.
Goldmans Henry is the greatest culprit: he bellows, he erupts, he emotes to the mountaintops and rends the heavens with his fervor. Actor Hooker makes all this vociferating credible Henry just happens to be a creature of deep feeling, we conclude but even so, its exhausting. We want so much sound and fury to signify something. It doesnt and by the second act, we cant help but see it as mere grandstanding.
Still, theres much that works nicely in this Gorilla production. Lynn Moore is engaging as Henrys mistress Alais Capet, sister of the French king and the designated fiancée of one or another of Henrys sons. Alais is the only emotionally attractive character in the drama, and Moore plays her with a lovely gentleness that earns our affection quickly and definitively.
Giles Davies as Henrys son Geoffrey is also delightful: he just cant figure out why its his two brothers who are fighting for the inheritance when, after all, hes a prince as much as they are. Nic Carter plays King Philip of France as a supercilious dandy whos always looking out for number one, and Joe Winskye portrays Richard as a crude and pompous oaf whos not above murder if thats his only recourse. Only Jon Gennari as Prince John doesnt quite make sense: its hard to understand why Henry favors him as the future king, or, for that matter, what sort of human being hes supposed to be.
Nancy Coles direction is intelligent, and Eric Haak and Megan Byrnes set the interior of a castle is exceedingly attractive. Jen Cunningham is the designer of the various medieval costumes.
So whats it all about? Lion strikes me mostly as a vehicle for performers, an opportunity for acting in the grand, vehement style. But for the audience, it falls short: theres no one to believe in, no one to root for. Henrys a self-dramatizing loudmouth, his sons are selfish and ambitious, and even Eleanor, for all her complexities, doesnt stand for anything beyond herself. Watching them go at each other, were watching a skirmish in which nothings at stake for anyone other than the combatants. Youd hardly know that theres a populace out there, that peoples lives may be in the balance.
This is one lively entertainment.
But Im afraid that its meaningless.