The Mind's I

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April 20, 1999
The Lion In Winter

Tonight, an open letter.

The Lion In Winter

To Ms. Stockard Channing and Mr. Laurence Fishburne,

Tonight, i saw something remarkable.

I went to see the Roundabout Theater production of The Lion in Winter with both of you in the roles of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II respectively. I didn't know what to expect. I believe I watched the 60s movie with Kathering Hepburn and Peter O'Toole several years ago, but it wasn't particularly memorable. I keep getting The Lion in Winter mixed up with A Man for All Seasons, a serious, tragic piece, which The Lion in Winter is certainly not... although as James Goldman so poignantly puts it (I'm paraphrasing here), there isn't much difference between tragedy and comedy in terms of story. It's the perspective from which you tell the material.

The Lion in Winter is certainly a dramatic comedy. There is tension and heartache and sadness in the play, but it is mixed with a great deal of wit and spunk that I so thoroughly enjoy in theater. Like The Side Man that I watched last month, the play has its touching moments and funny moments, although The Side Man is definitey rooted in tragedy. The raucous laughter that you exhibit at the end of the play roots you in comedy and I left the play feeling lighthearted. I was relieved that my family is far less disfunctional as yours... but jealous of how you can look at yourselves and your situation with humor and contentedness. My family is one where we have fun and occasionally make fun of each other, but with far less passion and humor and understanding. It's funny how Henry and Eleanor can read and manipulate their children... perhaps thankfully my parents do neither in regards to my sister and me.

Your two characters were both extremely interesting to me. The history between them which unfolded throughout the play added a richness and dimension to your characters. Here were two, strong, dominant characters who both love and hate each other. At times I thought it was sad that they were so vitriolic towards each other... but you could easily tell that they had a great deal of love and affection for each other (although they both feel it would be weak to demonstrate it).

Ms. Channing, the fiery wit of Eleanor is masterfully delivered. I found myself relating to her love for land, for her family, for power. Eleanor is a woman that I would like to be someday. Not her situation, mind you, but her passion and her intelligence. Her ability for politicing and manipulation is delightful to watch. I am envious. Eleanor plays her son, Richard the Lionhearted, beautifully in the way a mother plays her Oedipal son only can. She knows when to bask in her own glow and when to bend to Henry's mighty arm. Your comedic timing is precise. Grease was one of the earliest movies that I remember (I've got the tapes of me mimicing Olivia Newton John to prove it!) and I have to say that you have aged amazingly and gracefully. You have a wonderful figure, a refined face that hardly weathered in those 20 years. I regret not seeing Six Degrees of Separation when I had the opportunity and I vow not to every pass-up the opportunity again. Brilliant performance, Ms. Channing. Bravo!

Mr. Fishburne, the first real exposure to your work I've had is The Matrix. I know that you have received accolades from your peers and the industry from your other work like What's Love Got to Do With It, but I had never really been exposed to your work before. Okay, I will admit that I do remember Cowboy Curtis from Pee Wee's Playhouse... but it was't until recently that I've become aware of you as an actor. Now, I want to experience your repertoire of work. I'm especially excited to see Once In the Life, first directorial, writing, and starring role. Beware, Mr. Fishburne. The ever-obsessive Iko eye is on you. Your Henry was phenomenal. Unpredictable, cunning, booming. You created a presence on stage. When you spoke, I listened to that deep voice. I am moved by it. I think that if that voice asked me to jump off a bridge, I would... okay, maybe I wouldn't but I'd strongly consider it. You're a wonderful actor and I look forward to future projects, both on stage (like this amazing performance) and on screen.

The only really disappointing thing about the production was that the supporting cast didn't do so much supporting... but perhaps that is because their characters aren't as three-dimensional as both of yours. Richard the Lionhearted had a strong presence, but not much emotional range was exhibited by the character. Jeffrey was an almost non-entity in the play, a fact the character kept reiterating in the context of history. John was effectively oily, but I got tired of his whining and he never aspired to more within the play. Henry's young love interest (I have forgotten the character's name) seemed constantly confused and Louis of France just kept smiling and looking handsome. I think the focus of the blame should be on the playright. Because he wrote two such amazing and powerful characters, the supporting characters can't hold a candle to them. Perhaps that is the nature of this sort of work.

Henry and Eleanor

I eagerly purchased a poster for The Lion in Winter. I wish you both could sign it for me. I was probably in the farthest seat from the stage, but the small intimate feel of the theater made that concern moot.

To repeat: Thank you for a fantastic production. For two fantastic performances. I enjoyed it and would encourage everyone to watch it. Bravo! I look forward to both of your future projects.

Eileene Coscolluela

Images from The Lion in Winter © Copyright
© Copyright 1999, Eileene Coscolluela