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OnStage's 'The Lion in Winter' explores royal intrigue circa 1183 Phillip Brents | Fri, Aug 17 2012 04:18 PM

OnStage Playhouse will present “The Lion in Winter,” directed by O.P. Hadlock and produced by Bob Christiansen, Aug. 17 through Sept. 15 at its downtown Chula Vista theater (291 Third Ave.).

Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m.

King Henry II of England’s three oldest surviving sons want to succeed him. His wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, favors the eldest, Richard. He favors the youngest, John. Middle son Geoffrey hopes to play both ends against each other. Uneasy is the head on which lies the crown.

The play is based on real-life characters. Henry II, also known as Henry Curtmantle or Henry Plantagenet, ruled the Angevin Empire that stretched over much of western Europe.

His royal titles included Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Nantes, King of England (1154 to 1189) and Lord of Ireland. At various times, he also controlled Wales, Scotland and Brittany.

Though an energetic but sometimes ruthless ruler, Henry’s desire was to expand his empire to the extent once held by his grandfather King Henry I. This was complicated by the large number of children Henry had with Eleanor.

At the time, inheritance was dictated by birthright; riches were passed to the oldest child (often the oldest male child) while younger siblings were left to make their own mark in life.

Thus, royal houses were divided by rivalries and violent hostilities. In King Henry’s case, tensions arose within the family on the future inheritance of the empire.

That King Henry lived into his late 50s — almost an unheard of age in the 12th century — compounded matters for sons who felt “ready” to rule.

Eleanor, it appears, was there to help them.

This internal power struggle was encouraged by foreign powers, most notably France (England’s “cold war” enemy) under King Louis VII and later his son King Phillip II. While Henry struggled to find ways to satisfy his sons’ desires for immediate power, going as far as to invade Ireland to acquire land for his son John, it wasn’t enough.

Henry the Young King, Henry’s designated heir, and his younger brothers Richard and Geoffrey both participated in the Great Revolt of 1173 supported by their mother. King Henry, however, emerged victorious.

 Henry the Young King and Geoffrey again rebelled in 1183, which resulted in the death of the young Henry, leaving Richard, Geoffrey and John to fight for control of the “family firm.”

Geoffrey died in 1186, leaving Richard and John as once unlikely heirs to the throne.

A final rebellion led by Richard and Philip II of France led to King Henry’s retreat to Anjou and eventual death from a bleeding ulcer.

Richard (also known as Richard the Lionheart) succeeded his father in 1189 but died in 1199. It was during Richard’s participation in the Third Crusade that John rebelled in England.

Upon Richard’s death, John was proclaimed King of England and the Angevin Empire collapsed during his reign (1199-1216).

The OnStage production, which is based on a 1966 play by James Goldman and takes place during a (fictional) Christmas Court in 1183, features Steve Murdock as King Henry II and Sandra Hotchkiss Gullans as Eleanor.

Chris Fonseca appears as Richard, James Steinberg as Geoffrey, Morgan Hollingsworth as John, Devon Hollingsworth as Alais and Osmond Amesto as Philip II.

The OnStage production team also includes Ness Farantelli (stage manager), Lisa Burgess (costumer) and John Bossellman (production assistant).

Goldman later adapted his play into an Academy Award-winning film of the same name in 1968 starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. It was later adapted into a 2003 television movie starring Patrick Stewart and Glen Close.

For ticket information, call 422-7787.

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