‘The Lion in Winter:’ A Historical ‘Game of Thrones’


stephanie dunn design

(Courtesy of Pioneer Theatre Company)

By Madge Slack


What better way to kick off the new year than with a little death, betrayal and inheritance? Pioneer Theatre Company presents “The Lion in Winter” as their first show of 2019. Not only is this play an atypical period drama, but it also boasts an all-star cast and crew.

“The Lion in Winter” is a play concerning who will take the throne from the English ruler, King Henry II. Written by Academy Award-winning American playwright James Goldman, this play does not feature the usual “kill or be killed” scenario. You see, the story is a battle of wits, not swords, and the king’s illustrious opponent is none other than his wife. Goldman won an Academy Award for his screen adaptation of his play, written in 1966. He also wrote several other screen adaptations to plays such as “White Nights” and “Robin and Marion” and the book “Follies” by Stephen Sondheim.

(Courtesy of Pioneer Theatre Company)

The playwright is far from the only impressive person involved with this particular show. You might remember dramaturg Cate Heiner for her work on “The Wolves” at Salt Lake Acting Company, and if you don’t, she is also a University of Utah alumni, so check her out. The director, Wes Grantom, was last seen working on “Comedy of Tenors” for the PTC stage, which was a very popular show. Set designer Jason Simms built the beautiful scenery for “Glass Menagerie” and “An Inspector Calls.” Along with these returning brilliants, Amanda French, Allan Franson and Phillip Lowe will be doing makeup, hair, sound and costume design. So PTC’s at-home genius will be meshing with the returning successes to put together a truly spectacular show.

Onto the cast: Esau Pritchett, playing King Henry, has performed on Broadway tours and TV shows alike, including an appearance in HBO’s “The Night of” and Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” Celeste Ciulla, Eleanor, has been in three other PTC shows and even performed at the Old Globe Theater in London. The lovely Maryam Abdi plays Alais, a French princess and mistress to Henry. She has lived in Paris and been nominated for no small number of awards. Richard the Lionheart will be played by William Connell. Along with his many roles around the country and a Broadway revival of “A View from the Bridge,” he also appeared in popular shows such as “Blindspot,” “Gossip Girl,” “Smash,” “Law and Order” and “Madam Secretary.” Grayson Dejesus is the French king Philip. He toured in the Broadway production of “War Horse” and also has HBO on his resume from “High Maintenance.” Austin Reed Alleman plays John, the baby of the royal family, in his PTC debut. Also making his PTC debut, Damian Jermaine Thompson plays Geoffrey.

This show will be amazing due to the pure talent PTC has brought into the room. Add in two legendary lovers, a powerful woman and a battle of wits and this might well be a show-stopper. Opening Jan. 4, PTC’s “The Lion in Winter” will run through Jan. 19 with shows Monday-Saturday and a matinee Saturday afternoon. Tickets are $5 before the show with a UID or priced as listed on Pioneer’s website. Don’t miss a fantastic story of knights, love and fortune in this historical “Game of Thrones.”

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