The Barn Theatre production of “The Lion in Winter” featured two big name actors—Robert Newman and Kim Zimmer.  Both worked at the Barn Theatre early in their careers, and went on to star on “The Guiding Light.”  I went to see two very skilled and experienced actors tackle a couple of very challenging roles they did not disappoint.

“The Lion of Winter” takes place in Christmas of 1183 in King Henry II of England’s palace in France.  The king is there with his mistress, who is supposed to be marrying to one of his three living sons, and Queen Eleanor is there for the occasion too.  The King let her out of prison where she’s been for 10 years since plotting to kill him.   The King is getting long in the tooth, an ancient 50 years of age, and wants to work a deal to make sure his kingdom stays in tact after he’s gone.  All five royals---make that six---the young King of France is there too-- are scheming, lying and manipulating as they jockey for power and position.    The parallels to American politics were staggering.  After a while, it becomes so hard to sort out the lies from the truth that you just throw up your hands and assume that it’s all lies, all the time.

Sound like a fun couple of hours?   It was!  We laughed our butts off.  True, horrible things were said and done by the characters on stage.  There was a lot of bellowing.   There were gasps from the audience who were shocked at some of the things that were said by the members of this most dysfunctional family.   But there were priceless and hilarious lines flying from the stage at every turn.  It only worked because Zimmer and Newman knew exactly how to deliver them.

It’s possible for an audience to like horrible people doing horrible things.  But it requires the most skillful of actors.  Otherwise, you end up hating the characters and wishing they’d just go away.   Newman was perfect as King Henry.   He looked like a king.  He bellowed like a king.  But talk about charm!

Zimmer was just awesome.   Her zingers came fast and furious, flawlessly delivered, and she was easily the most lovable person on stage---no easy task for a nasty, loathsome, lying beast of a queen.   I couldn’t wait for her to come back on stage and give her next line.

As expected, the chemistry between the two lead actors was incredible.  I believed that their characters truly loved, and hated each other.   I believed that these people were brilliant and crazy, and real.

The play was not Shakespeare, (it was in English), but it reminded me of something.  I once saw a community theater production of “A Winter’s Tale”, where I couldn’t understand what in the heck the characters were saying.  I was about to leave when an experienced actor came on stage, and suddenly the Shakespearian dialogue all made sense.   This play was like that.  Newman and Zimmer made it work.

Jamie Grisham was strong as Prince Richard, the Lionhearted.   Quinn Moran had some nice moments as the King of France.

The set looked good and rotated to give quick views of different parts of the castle.  The recorded music was over-driven and distorted, especially to begin the first act, but otherwise the show clicked technically.

“The Lion in Winter” is the only play being done by the Barn this summer, sandwiched in between five musicals.  Don’t miss it!   It runs through August 6th.

  • Barn Theatre
  • 13351 West M-96
  • Augusta, MI 49012
  • Box office
  • 10am – 10pm
  • 269-731-4121