Henley Street Goes Tongue in Cheek

Henley Street Theatre Presents ‘The Lion in Winter.’

“What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?” asks Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter.  She should know: as the play opens, she has been detained in the dungeons by her husband, Henry II, the king of England, and this intra-family imprisonment is only the jumping-off point for  all the internecine family strife that follows.

“It’s a classic example of mid-century American theater,” says Henley Street creative director Jan Powell of James Goldman’s script, which debuted on Broadway in 1966 and was later adapted into an Academy-Award winning movie starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. Powell reached out to Jon Kretzu, a Portland, Oregon-based director to head up Henley Street’s production.  “It’s a very darkly humorous play. Very sharp, very biting,” says Kretzu, “They might be historical characters, but they talk like they’re in a modern living room.”

The Lion in Winter marks the first show to be produced in the VMFA’s Leslie Cheek Theater in more than five years. Originally constructed in 1955 and renovated in 2011, the Cheek Theater is a grand proscenium that seats 500 (although not all of the theater’s seats will be used in this production). Says Kretzu, “[The Cheek Theater] is fantastic. It’s a big space, but it can still feel intimate.”

Henley Street Theatre merged with Richmond Shakespeare last year, and the new joint venture will announce an official name and logo this May.  The Lion in Winter runs Feb. 5-28 on Thursdays at 7p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets $35 ($25 for VMFA members). HenleyStreetTheatre.org

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