Ah, Christmas at home in the 12th century with Henry II and family. Dinner, a little tree-trimming... and threats of fratricide, patricide and war, fueled by marital malice: What could be cozier? (“What shall we hang, the holly or each other?” asks Henry).
James Goldman’s fierce and funny play of high stakes family dysfunction doesn’t entirely catch fire at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, but it’s quite an enjoyable outing nonetheless.
King Henry (Ian Buchanan), while still hale, is getting on in years and his three sons have an avid interest in who’s next in line. Brilliant and devious schemer Geoffrey (Paul Turbiak) comes in a distant third; Henry’s choice is sly, callow, pimply-faced John (Doug Plaut), dubbed a “walking pustule” by humorless and hypermasculine eldest brother Richard Lionheart (Brendan Ford).
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Mariette Hartley), imprisoned by her husband for plotting against him and given temporary freedom for the holiday, wants Richard named successor. Not out of any excess of maternal feeling — she has little to none — but to best Henry in another of their high stakes games of one-upmanship.