Highland Park native James Goldman’s renowned play, “The Lion in Winter,” is given new depth at Skokie Theatre, where the leading couple onstage are also real-life spouses.
Wayne Mell and Debra Criche Mell star as Henry the Second and Eleanor of Aquitaine, crowned rulers of England in 1183. The couple squabble and scheme over which of their children becomes heir to the throne in a battle of wits that audiences find both hilarious and inspired.
“As a couple, we rarely fight,” says Wayne Mell. “But when we do, it’s usually about our child — just like in the play. That’s the part that’s pulled from real life. Everyone thinks of Henry and Eleanor as the classic warring couple, but they also love each other passionately and deeply.”
Thirty years ago, the Mells met onstage in a production of “Something’s Afoot,” a “very different role” than that of the English king and queen. “She was the saucy maid and I was the black sheep nephew,” said Wayne Mell. “My role had the tenor solo, which was very far out of my range. It’s the only time I’ve sang in public since grade school. It’s in our pre-nup that I’ll never do it again,” he laughs.
“The Lion in Winter” takes place during the holiday season, which makes it a great production to undertake now. “The show is written as a metaphor for a modern family,” explains Wayne Mell, “and so there are many historical licenses that were taken. They didn’t actually celebrate Christmas in 1183, but what better setting for a dysfunctional family gathering?”
Though the Mells are a happily married couple, Henry and Eleanor are not the happiest of campers in the castle. Portraying them has been a great amount of fun and stress for Wayne and Debra, and has brought them closer together.
When asked if running Skokie Theatre is anything like running a kingdom, Wayne Mell laughs, “It’s my job to create entertainment and events that make people happy. If I were king, people would come when I told them to.”
For tickets, or more information about “The Lion in Winter,” visit SkokieTheatre.org or call 847-677-7761. The final three performances are this weekend.