The intrigues of the 12th century British royals comes to life in "Lion in Winter," a historical drama on stage at Pennsylvania Playhouse through Oct. 22.

The interesting play by James Goldman puts Henry II of England, his estranged and imprisoned wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry's three ambitious sons and his young mistress all together for the holidays at the Plantagenet household.

As you can imagine, tempers flare and plotting is constantly a foot.

The playhouse's production was a bit uneven and took a while to hit its stride, before starting to pull the audience in.

Henry, payed with ruthless bravado by Gene Connelly, wants to name a successor to inherit the English crown and favors his youngest son John, whom Chris Keyser portrays as weak and whiny.Lion compressed

However Eleanor, a strong presence with resentment bubbling just below the surface as played by Jeanie Olah, wants to see oldest son Richard the Lionheart on the throne.

Jeremy Thompson makes Richard distinctive and powerful, but with an overlying air of bitterness.

Geoffrey, played by Colin Walsh, is sly and manipulative, trying to make a place for himself in the hapless role of the middle son.

Set during Christmas 1183 at Henry II's castle in Chinon, the play opens with the arrival of Eleanor whom Henry has had imprisoned since 1173 when she encouraged their sons to rebel against their father.

Also at Christmas court is Alais, the daughter of French King Louis VII who has been betrothed to Richard since she was eight but is now the mistress of Henry II.

Marian Barshinger's Alais is a reluctant pawn in the royal chess game and Barshinger makes the young women passionate but aware of her powerlessness. She is in love with Henry but all too aware that her position as his mistress is by no means secure.

Also joining the Plantagenets is the teenaged King Phillip of France with whom it is suggested Richard previously has had a relationship.

Drake Nesters' Philip is cocky and smug as he joins in the machinations of the household.

For most of the play the main conflict is between the determined Henry and the manipulative Eleanor, who also still loves Henry, and the antagonistic relationship between the two as portrayed by Connelly and Olah keeps the audience invested in the complicated intrigue.

Director Clair Freeman keeps the actors focused and the plot twists moving forward.

The set of a 12th century palace room by Dan Lewis is attractive and evokes a chilliness echoed by the characters and the period costumes by Todd Burkel successfully added to the atmosphere.

"The Lion in Winter," 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 22, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Illicks Mill Road, Bethlehem. Tickets: $25: $22 students and seniors (except Saturdays). 610-865-6665,