James Goldman's smart 1968 drama reimagines a nightmarish, home-for-the-holidays reunion for the dysfunctional family of 12th-century monarch Henry II and his estranged wife, Eleanor (historically, a brilliant duo whose early political conquests rocked their generation). Thirty years into the marriage, relations have soured, with Eleanor (Diane Hurley) under indefinite house arrest for plotting Henry (John Rafter Lee)'s overthrow but furloughed on this holiday occasion to take part in determining his heir. The ostensible candidates are their sons: macho Richard (Adam Burch), clever Geoffrey (Clay Bunker) and oafish John (James Weeks), all angling for the crown and willing to betray and/or slay either parent or both to get it. The play's driving dynamic and witty dialogue are best displayed in the ruthless sparring between the spouses, in which razor-sharp take-downs flourish in tandem with a lingering mutual respect and, for Eleanor, a yet undiminished passion. A studied prologue and uneven performances hamper this production at its outset; once Hurley's tart-tongued matriarch enters the fray, however, the drama starts to cook. Lee successfully captures the king's monarchial will, sensual appetites and outsized personality but falls short when expressing his vulnerability in key moments. Michael Cooper directs. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2:30 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Starts: Sept. 27. Continues through Nov. 16, 2013

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