Friday, August 9, 2013

Eleanor and Henry

I suppose if you had been locked away in a castle only to come out at Christmas time each year, you would be on the verge of madness, but Eleanor holds herself like a true queen in this Russian adaptation of The Lion in Winter.

The play closed the Summer International Drama Festival in Druskininkai, hosted by Rimas Tuminas.  We had earlier seen an excellent Russian adaptation of Medea with Julia Rutberg.  The old theater at the Egles sanitorium has seen its better days, and the stifling heat must have been a challenge for the actors, as they were all dressed for winter in their heavy robes.

It was only afterward that I made the connection, as I struggled through the darkly comic dialog, relying on my wife to give me a recap at intermission and when the play was over.  I was truly held spellbound by the great performance of Liudmila Chiursina as Eleanor and the wonderfully charismatic Sergei Kolesnikov as Henry, her despotic husband.

The play has been recast many times over the years, with the most recent incarnation by Andrei Konchalovsky in 2003.  Andrei seems to have made the US his home away from home, having done many American productions since he established his fame with Siberiade.  Patrick Stewart, who played Henry, personally wanted Konchalovsky to direct the film.

Of course, the classic film version remains that with Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole in 1968.  However, nothing beats a great theatrical production, and I'm sure James Goldman would have greatly enjoyed this Russian telling of Eleanor and her Men (Элинор и ее мужчины) by Alexander Burdonski.

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