The royal family drama of "The Lion in Winter" will be on display this weekend at the Dalton Little Theatre.

"It's a wonderful script," said Melissa Adams, the show's director. Audiences will see a play that's "incredibly well written and incredibly well acted."

This production won best ensemble at the Georgia Theatre Conference competition in mid-October, earning the right to move on to the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Louisville early in 2020, Adams said. This is the third time in four years DLT has advanced to the regions from the state contest in the community theater category, including last year with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," a musical comedy.

In addition to best ensemble, "we took two of the four acting awards" at the convention, held at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, as Chase Parker, who plays Henry II, and Zack Jordan, who plays Richard, won best actor and best supporting actor in the community theater category, Adams said. Adams used to take her theater students at Murray County High School to compete in the state convention when she was the drama director, and "I really enjoy competing."

For Parker, "working with these other actors is the real pleasure for me," he said. "None of these acting awards would be possible without having dynamic performers to react to, because it's about acting with everyone else, not about what you bring up there yourself."

For the competition, shows must be cut to 60 minutes, and productions have 10 minutes to assemble and then disassemble their sets, Adams said. This weekend's DLT productions are the full play — which details the machinations among Henry II, the king of England; Eleanor, his wife, whom he's imprisoned for years; and sons Richard, Geoffrey and John, during a Christmas Court — rather than the abbreviated 60-minute pieces.

The play, written by James Goldman, opens Friday at 7 p.m. with additional performances at 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for students, $12 for seniors, $12 for DLT members and $15 for general admission. Tickets can be purchased online at daltonlittletheatre.com or at the door on show nights if seats remain available. Doors open 30 minutes before show time.

Preparing a production for the annual state competition is "a long undertaking," Adams said. "We start rehearsing in August, but we have a wonderful cast and crew."

This production actually has two casts, but "both are phenomenal," and several actors will be part of both casts for this weekend's shows, she said. "This show is fueled by Henry and Eleanor's dysfunction, and they are very witty."

Indeed, the writing is a main attraction for actors and actresses, said Monica Woodlief, who plays Eleanor. "I've been wanting to do this (play) for a very long time, because the script is fantastic."

"The characters are complex, interesting and completely crazy, but their actions do make sense," Woodlief added. "This is a bucket list show for me."

"The Lion in Winter" is the rare play theater companies can produce on a regular basis and never struggle to find actors and actresses, because the writing and characters are so rich and rewarding, said Parker. "This is the first show I've ever been in where I feel like I could do it night after night and never get tired of it."

While "The Lion in Winter" is certainly a loquacious piece of art, the lines do feed into one another, and emotional context can flip at the proverbial drop of a hat, Woodlief said. "The relationships are very toxic."

Geoffrey, for example, has "layers and layers of anger and resentment," said Joel Sanchez-Avantes, who plays the scheming middle son. "He has a tortured past, and he's devious and methodical."

Sanchez-Avantes won an acting award for this troupe's competition production last year at the state contest, and, in addition to his on-stage prowess, he's also the stage manager for "The Lion in Winter."

"I'm a workaholic," he said with a laugh.

His backstage efforts are in concert with Teryn Long, who is in charge of lighting and sound for this play.

"The biggest thing for me is making sure I don't miss my cues," Long said with a giggle. "You can get so caught up watching this play."

Woodlief, who has a master's in theater, has spent a quarter century in the milieu, although she resigned herself only to directing for a time as she raised her children, she said. Her husband actually encouraged her to return to the stage, and she's thrilled she did, because she can play characters like Eleanor.

"The key for me is not to judge her," Woodlief said. "Eleanor has made choices I would not, but she feels justified, and she's become someone who has to fight for every tooth and nail."

Parker also understands his character.

"Henry is like a lot of us, someone whose life has gone by him while he's been living in the moment, and now there's more time behind him than in front of him by a good measure, and he has to reflect on whether he's at the stage in life he wants to be or thought he'd be, and he's not where he wants to be," Parker said. "That's universal."

Parker has been involved with theater since middle school, and he's served as president of the DLT board.

"Dalton audiences have been very kind to me," he said. While on stage, "there's an exchange with the audience, where you entertain them, and they provide energy for you to keep discovering things."

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