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James Lindsley as French King Philip squares off with Blake Latz as Richard the Lionheart in the  production of "The Lion in Winter." Dr. Rodger Marion, the Wimberley Players' dramaturge and current assistant director of the show "The Lion in Winter," works to ensure that plays performed by the Wimberley Players are authentic to the customs, costumes and language of the time periods they take place in. Photo by Mary Rath

Rodger Ruins Everything

Or the making of 'The Lion in Winter'
Friday, November 30, 2018

It’s action movie night and two characters are setting up for sword play. You hear that electrifying, shivery, metal-on-metal "zzwiing" and you know the battle is on. Wait a minute though, swords don’t "zzwiing" when pulled from their scabbards. Scabbards are sheaths of leather and drawing steel across them makes no noise. 

Meet Rodger Marion, PhD., assistant director and dramaturge for the current Wimberley Players production of "The Lion in Winter." Did you know that there is an entire theatrical profession that works with the director and other creatives to stage performances that are authentic to the period, locale and intent of the playwright? They’re called dramaturges and Marion is one of them. Dramaturges work with costumers to dress actors in period dress, check the set for anachronisms and make sure props and weapons are correct. They give insight into language and advise about makeup and hair. They also reveal the ways a scriptwriter might play fast and loose with reality, as in the "zzwiing" example above, in order to spin a rich and compelling story. 

Considerably less well-known than the namesake of “Adam Ruins Everything,” Dr. Marion’s research is, like the man, friendly, informative and thorough. 

“Richard Goldman’s script takes place in 1153 and imagines a family of people who actually existed: Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard Lionheart, Geoffrey and John. Even though the script is in English, the characters would have spoken French. And while Henry is historically regarded as the first Plantagenet king of England, he did not know it, as the word Plantagenet was not attached to him or his family in his lifetime,” Marion says.

“The play places Christmas in a modern framework. Trees and presents are more the product of the 19th century. In the 12th, gifts might be fruit or nuts and, since no paper was available, a gift might be in a wooden box tied with ribbon or string. In the 12th century, Christmas was celebrated over a two-week period with many gatherings and church services. Henry and his family seem to ignore the religious components of the season. 

Here are some other fun anachronisms:

  • Page 46 of the script refers to “Stick pins” This reference to the Voodoo practice of sticking pins in a doll to cause pain isn’t a 12th century idea.
  • Page 48 of the script references syphilis. It wasn’t called syphilis until 400 years after the play takes place.
  • On page 52 there is talk of Brandywine, which is another name for brandy. The term "brandy" was not used until much later.
  • Page 63 references democratic ideas. While early Greek states had a form of limited democratic government, and Rome had a limited republican government, the term "democratic" was probably not commonly used by Henry II and his family, nor a form of government they thought much about.
  • Blue ink is mentioned in the play and blue pigments were used in paints and some dyes but it seems ink for writing was black, not blue.
  • “Pigs get wings” means that something is impossible. The origin of this expression is later than the 12th century. A common source is Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” 
  • A reference to Jeu de mail, a lawn game much like croquet, has origins in the 15th century, so Henry couldn’t have played it. 
  • Henry claims that “… my finest angle; it’s on all the coins.” But none of the coins attributed to Henry II show him in profile.

Just a tiny sampling of his notes, Dr. Marion’s work as a dramaturge provides the context for the playwright’s script and prepares the actors to deliver the most believable performance possible. He’s been active with the Wimberley Players as assistant director and dramaturge for four recent productions, has directed, designed video, and on rare occasions, appeared on stage. He produced and directed two feature-length motion pictures filmed totally in Wimberley: "Impasse" (2011) and "Nudged" (2015). 

"The Lion in Winter" will run through Dec. 2 at the Wimberley Playhouse, 450 Old Kyle Rd. For more information go to Wimberley Players' website.