Weirder Relatives Than Yours

Plotting for empire: Kai Elijah Hamilton is King Henry II and Jennifer Memolo is Queen Eleanor in A Lion in Winter.

Theater presented around Christmas typically celebrates the lightest themes, politely sidestepping anything truly provocative or controversial (the angst of empty inns in Nativity plays and the retail horror show of Santaland Diaries are possible exceptions). At Brevard Little Theatre, however, dark comedy will take center stage with the upcoming production of the Tony-award-winning play The Lion in Winter. 

The story revolves around King Henry II and his kinfolk, who are fiercely and hilariously motivated by greed, lust, wealth, and power. (While the characters and their fates are historically accurate, all plot devices are fictional.) The choice to present this play in December may be unconventional, but the theme is infinitely relatable. Virtually anyone who has ever attended a large gathering of family members can relate to the awkwardness that inevitably percolates to the surface.  

That potential for discomfort is especially palpable this year, as the theater’s marketing promotions acknowledge. “Brevard Little Theatre is proud to present this play,” its website says, “at a time when the country is divided and families are torn apart due to [political disagreements].” 

“It’s about going for Christmas dinner when everything comes up,” explains director Jonathan Forrester. “The family dysfunction comes to a head over a period of two days. And back in 1183, they didn’t have distractions like cell phones, so you were forced to talk to each other. 

“Then you throw a mistress in on top of it all, who is supposed to marry the king’s son, Richard, but is also the king’s mistress. And the king has just let his wife, Queen Eleanor, out of prison so she could attend.”

The absurdity of the royal family drama continues to escalate. And as audience members laugh along, their own family dynamics may not seem so weird after all.

Forrester, who made the nontraditional suggestion to do this play at Christmastime, likes to shake things up a bit. That’s why he often gives actors roles that surprise them, as he did for The Lion in Winter. “What’s fun is when you cast actors in a part they would never imagine playing. Then you get to watch them grow into their character, and it’s amazing. 

“The biggest challenge is that this is a nuanced period piece that’s been on Broadway and was made into an Academy Award-winning movie. We’re trying to do a production that’s different, but is still true to the intent of the original play. But you know you’ve done your job if an audience leaves the theater still thinking about what they just saw.”

Brevard Little Theatre presents The Lion in Winter November 30 through December 16. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30pm; Sunday matinees are at 3pm. 55 East Jordan St., Brevard. Tickets are $18/adults, $12/students, $6/kids under 12. For more information, call 828-884-2587 or see thebrevardlittletheatre.org.

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