King Lear thought he had ungrateful children. At least among his three daughters, one of them (Cordelia) was loving and devoted. No such luck in the case of King Henry II, whose three sons elevate selfishness, childishness and nastiness to the level of high art.
North Coast Rep's 30th-anniversary production of James Goldman's The Lion in Winter (first staged in NCR's inaugural season in 1982) is a bit of high art itself. It's a lyrical historical drama with generous dollops of biting wit and glib commentary, applicable well beyond the 12th-century setting, about power, ambition and family. To a more visceral degree, the war of words and gesticulations between explosive Henry (Mark Pinter) and brainy Eleanor (Kandis Chappell) is nearly as flammable as George and Martha's in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but with Christmas wine instead of booze. Chappell and the stentorian-voiced Pinter are well-matched combatants in this production directed by Andrew barnicle, and the embers of Eleanor and Henry's expiring love flicker just believably enough from beginning to satisfying end.
The ostensible chief conflict of The Lion in Winter is how uneasy lies the head of Henry, which wears the crown of England. That crown is coveted by sons Richard (Richard Baird, brooding), Geoffrey (Jason Maddy, scheming) and John (Kyle Roche, tantruming). Then there's Henry's young mistress (Alexandra Grossi) and the matter of his remaining spousal ties to Eleanor, whom he has imprisoned. It's all very scratched and tangled in a barbed-wire heap of envy, resentment, sibling rivalry and even oedipal complexity. You may need a scorecard to keep track of all the in-castle machinations, so it's best to savor The Lion in Winter for its athletic language, for Pinter's rafters-rattling rants and for the three sons' one-note but entertaining demeanors.
Scenic designer Marty burnett contributes a cold but regal set, and the chanting musical interludes further the illusion of a troubled Christmastime in the High Middle Ages.
Freud would have had a field day in Henry II's household. Pity he was born seven centuries too late.
Dividing the Estate: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Horton Foote's family comedy set in a fictitious Texas town. Previews begin Jan. 14 at Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up. theoldglobe.org
The Elephant Man: The life of John Merrick is retold in the venerable play by Bernard Pomerance. Opens Jan. 13 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. $14-$16. onstageplayhouse.org
The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode: The ‘80s sitcom gets a twisted take via the mind of Jamie Morris. Opens Jan. 15 at Diversionary Theatre, University Heights. $20-$29. diversionary.org
L.A. (Lost Apollonia): The New Play Festival opens with this work by emerging playwright Rob Novak. Opens Jan. 13 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. $15. newvillagearts.org
Pinkalicious The Musical: A fanciful work produced by North Coast Rep's Professional Theatre for Young Audiences. Opens Jan. 11 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $12-$16. northcoastrep.org
Cats: Still going strong after 31 years, the feline-driven Andrew Lloyd Webber musical highlighted by the ballad “Memory” returns in a touring production presented by Broadway San Diego. Through Jan. 15 at Civic Theatre, Downtown. $17.50-$77.50. broadwaysd.com
Hamlet: Shakespeare's tragedy of revenge, existentialism and oedipal complexity, courtesy of Vanguard Theatre Company. Through Jan. 15 at Westminster Theater in Point Loma. $5-$10. vanguardsd.org
The Toughest Girl Alive: Blues singer Candye Kane stars in this one-woman musical autobiography. Through Jan. 15 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. in Rolando. $20-$40. moxietheatre.com
The Servant of Two Masters: Former Lamb's Players Theatre staff member David McFadzean (who went on to create Home Improvement) returned to Coronado with a new Italian-flavored musical comedy, first presented last fall and reprised here. Through Jan. 15 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. $26-$60. lambsplayers.org
A Hammer, a Bell and a Song to Sing: The Music of Pete Seeger: Song, spoken word and narrative come together for a musical history lesson inspired by the compositions of Pete Seeger and his grandson. Through Jan. 29 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, Downtown. $32-$51. sdrep.org
The Lion in Winter: James Goldman's story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, set at Christmas time in 12th-century England. Through Jan. 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $32-$49. northcoastrep.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Feb. 26 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
Shotgun Wedding Anniversary: How else can a miserable 25-year marriage end but in murder? Presented by Mystery Cafe, it's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. $59.50, including dinner. mysterycafe.net