Playing one of the lead roles in the upcoming Joliet Drama Guild production of “Lion in Winter” is a part Kelly Johnson has hoped for since she was younger. She loved the 1968 movie of the same name, starring Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor and Peter O’Toole as King Henry II.
Earlier in her acting career, the Seneca resident was too young to play Eleanor and not quite ingénue enough to play Henry’s mistress Alice.
But now Johnson is just the right age to play the part of Eleanor, Henry’s formerly imprisoned wife.
“Now that I am the right age, I am perfect for it,” Johnson said. “I knew if I ever got the chance to do it, I would. This was my chance.”
The storyline focuses on King Henry, who needs to choose which one of his three sons will be heir to the throne. Of course, Henry and Eleanor both have different ideas, as do all three sons.
While the movie draws on the historical past, writer James Goldman has taken some liberties and turned it into what becomes a “high stakes game of check and mate for power and love.”
The resulting comedy/drama illuminates the dysfunctional royal family, not unlike some families of today.
“It’s a wonderful script, we have found a lot of funny comments in it,” Johnson said. “The language is very timely and the situation works.”
While Johnson was a theatre major at Illinois State University and has since performed extensively throughout the years — in both acting and singing — this is her first production with Joliet Drama Guild, she said.
“I had never met any of the cast members before. They have been wonderful to work with,” said Johnson.
The chemistry between all the actors is very apparent, she said. When Johnson read with Keith White, who plays King Henry, director Luke Pascale commented that there was instant chemistry.
“Everything that each one of us brings to the characters makes it all work,” said Johnson.
“Kelly (Johnson) is very natural and was a no-brainer for Eleanor,” said Pascale.
Shorewood resident Al Pindell plays middle child Geoffrey — not the first choice for heir of either parent. While Geoffrey is the typical lost child, he is manipulative and conniving in his own right.
Unfortunately for Geoffrey, nobody seems to care much what he’s up to, said Pindell.
“But that creates some complications as he plays everybody off each other,” Pindell said. “It’s such a fun part to play. I get to be a little bad on stage, which is always fun.”
Pindell is a native of Baltimore, Md. but came to the area 12 years ago. He too has a degree in theatre and has made both acting and directing his passion, though not professionally. Pindell has written several children’s plays which have been produced around the U.S. and in Korea.
For the past few years, Pindell has been directing, so he’s enjoying his time in the spotlight once more.
“It’s nice acting this time, I can let someone else run the show,” he said.
Pindell is also sound designer for the show.
“I like to take on a lot of roles,” he said. “(Community theatre) is a collaborative art.”
Expect each night’s show to be a little different from the next, said Pindell. Joliet Drama Guild cast members love to play off the responses of the audience and they go with it.
“(Pindell) has exceptional comic timing,” said Pascale.
“We have a lot of fun and find ourselves laughing every rehearsal,” Pascale said. “That makes for an enjoyable process.”
“Lion in Winter” opens Friday, Feb. 10 and runs two weekends at the Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park Theatre, 201 Jefferson Street, in Joliet.
Tickets are available for purchase online at jolietdramaguild.org or by calling (877) JDG-1933.