This holiday season, new theatre group The Merry Tricksters of Haines will bring the 1966 historical play “The Lion in Winter” by James Goldman to the Chilkat Center for the Arts.
This is Mark Zeiger’s first time directing, though he acted in Juneau decades ago and performed most recently in the Lynn Canal Community Players’ May 2016 production of “Incorruptible” by Michael Hollinger. Last Christmas, Zeiger watched the 1968 film of “The Lion in Winter,” starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, and realized that it was similar to “Incorruptible” in that it used contemporary English and was set in the Middles Ages, barring the comedic moments. He thought it would be a fun play to put on at Christmas.
“The best way to do that was to volunteer to direct it myself,” Zeiger said. “It’s a big step. I’ve done a fair amount of acting but I’m not one of those actors [who] is the cliché ‘What I really want to do is direct.’ I never had that ambition. Then I realized that it’s something that can be done.”
The play has complicated dynamics, with both personal and political conflicts. It’s set in 1183. King Henry II has brought his family together at Chinon for Christmas to decide which of his sons will wear the crown once he dies. At the same time, he’s also settling a land dispute with King Philip II of France. Henry’s first choice of his sons died the year before, leaving his three remaining sons John, Geoffrey and Richard the Lionheart to contend for the throne. To further complicate matters, his wife led a revolt against him, along with Geoffrey, Richard and the deceased son more than a decade ago; Henry won, and though he reconciled with his surviving sons, he imprisoned Eleanor for her part in the revolt. As the parties convene at Chinon, different factions of the royal family favor different sons as heir.
“The play itself is just seven characters. We’ve done very well with that,” Zeiger said. “I really like Goldman’s vision. He describes the basic sets as not a hint of luxury anywhere. So we’re very rustic and we’re trying to convey the fact that the castle is very cold and it is winter…we may be the royals but we’re barely getting by just like anybody else.”
The Merry Tricksters of Haines have stripped down the play to the original cast, taking out the soldiers and servants in the film. Amanda Randles is Eleanor of Aquitaine, Jedediah Blum-Evitts is King Philip II of France, Gina Randles is Princess Alais Capet of France, Ryan Staska is Prince Richard the Lionheart, Dominic Stossel is Prince John Lackland, Riyan Stossel is Prince Geoffrey, and Zeiger is King Henry II of England.
“It has been very enjoyable. We attacked this play with the idea that we were all basically friends and let’s put on a play for ourselves and if we’re lucky, we can charge people to come and see it. …The group is great. The fact that they’re almost all related has put a really weird vibe on this thing … considering so many people in Haines knows the family. I think it’s going to be a really fun thing for Haines to see,” he said, pointing out the familial relationship between the Randles and the Stossel cast members.
Zeiger is not only directing the play but he is playing the lead, Henry.
“It’s not just directing it’s directing from the stage which is a whole other animal. Trying to hone my own performance, keep an eye on everybody else and remember the notes for the end of the scene is just really taxing.”
There’s been help from his wife Michelle Zeiger, who sewed his costume and helped with other behind the scenes work, and his daughter Aly Zeiger, who works as a member of the stage crew. Community members have also helped. Some people have volunteered to do lighting, and another person volunteered to do sound. Local artists volunteered to make his crown look more authentic, Zeiger said.
“This just would not come together if it wasn’t for the support of the community, and I would extend that to Juneau in a lot of ways. We had friends from Juneau who came up to see ‘Incorruptible.’ There’s sure to be Juneau crowd for this one,” Zeiger said. “And the businesses who have helped us out and the volunteers. …It really is the whole community that is pulling this together.”
Performances will be on Friday, Nov. 24 and Saturday, Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. and then the following weekend on Friday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. All showings will be at the Chilkat Center for the Arts. Tickets are $15 per adult and $12 per student and senior (ages 65 plus); a family costs $40.
• Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly’s staff writer.