The Lion in Winter
Lakewood Centre for the Arts, 368 S State, Lake Oswego, 635-3901, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, through Feb 19, $22-24

Like many suburban arts organizations, Lake Oswego's Lakewood Theatre Company plays for an older, richer crowd that likes its theater straight as an arrow. I try to understand that they target a different demographic than I'm used to and judge accordingly. But it's hard to be neutral in the face of a production with such a beautiful venue and so many fancy lights, working with such an elegant script and such good actors like Ted Roisum and Rebecca Becker, and spitting out one of the most uninspired works in recent memory.

James Goldman's The Lion in Winter is a scathingly articulate riff on the royal family of England's notorious womanizing king, Henry II (Roisum), who, one special Christmas Eve, releases his imprisoned wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Becker), to help him choose one of his three sons to succeed his throne. What ensues is both a fascinating medieval soap opera, and a dark, contemplative reflection on family, old age, and death. Lakewood's rendition plays like a bad sitcom.

Under Bill Dobson's direction, Lion's players stand around, with little to do. There's a family on stage, but none of the performances seem related, or even aware of each other. Henry's favorite son is the dimwitted John, played by Samm Hawkins as a whining, flouncing fop. Why does Henry like this kid? It's an intriguing question posed by the script, but here it just feels arbitrary. None of the kids register; not Brian Manley's wooden turn as the allegedly brilliant Geoffrey, nor Paul Angelo as the power-mad Richard. Meanwhile, Roisum and his embittered queen, Becker, spar listlessly. The script is loaded with verbal betrayals and witty insults that cut with a core of real, seething angst. Here, they drop like knock-knock jokes. Scenes don't so much as end as they die, faded out by Glenn Gauer's light design that frequently fails to actually light the actors.

This is the kind of theater that is killing theater: A vision-less glut of much-needed resources, made for an audience that will one day be gone, with no thought of who might replace them when they go.