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Thursday, 19 February 2015 08:47

Off-Broadway Review: CHURCHILL

Written by
Ronald Keaton Ronald Keaton Photo: Jason Epperson

A performer must have more than a little audacity to create a one person show, much less to write the piece itself, and further more to make the subject an iconic figure. Thankfully, given the topic of the performance at hand, such audacity doesn't only seem fitting, but necessary for an accurate portrayal. Churchill, performed and adapted by Ronald Keaton and directed by Kurt Johns, now in performance at New World Stages, is a magnificent look at history through the eyes of one of the men who crafted it.

As Churchill, Ronald Keaton is engages naturally with the historic figure at hand. He presents a man who, while conscious of historic posterity, seems more concerned here with telling a good story. He tells the tale mostly chronologically. Starting with his youth in a boarding house and his familial relationships, Churchill describes his uneasy ascent through Britain's government. One could expect such a discussion to be in line with House of Cards style intrigue, and indeed such conspiracies might have occurred in these formative years of Mr. Churchill, though the story presented is more focused on familial pride. The politics of Winston Churchill are those of the uncompromising idealist, which are in turn founded with the assurance of landing on the right side of history. He's presented to the audience more a political philosopher than Machiavellian.

The character is smartly conscious of his audience's nationality. Mr. Keaton's text offers American points of reference with organic grace. He is present and accounted for in the room as he warmly gestures and gazes about the theatre. Substantial time is offered by Mr. Keaton to discuss Winston Churchill's personal life with his wife and parents. This never feels like base gossip in comparison to the political ambitions of the character. This Churchill stands as an idealist bred in natural warmth. It feels as though the man himself would believe his family life warrants as much a place in his life's landscape as either world war.

The fixed set, designed by Jason Epperson, is beautiful. Its wood structuring gives the sense of warm personal intimacy, while retaining a craftsman's nobility. The production includes a desk which is complete with the customary water and whiskey, an easel, an easy chair, and a faux window projection screen which alternates between trompe l'oeil garden exterior and a helpful slide show. The piece begins with Winston Churchill at the easel. He philosophizes and quietly lists a few choice anecdotes of his experience. These are made more tangible beyond text by the projections of Paul Deziel and sound design of Eric Backus.

For Churchill fanatics this could all be old hat. Most of the tales told are general knowledge and there is no scandal or expose detailed in the script. Though, even the most tired Churchill anecdote is offered new presence in Ronald Keaton's heartfelt delivery. One could also mutter after final curtain about certain historical nuances, or question the viability of certain facts the character offers. I'll admit that I don't personally believe every story I hear from the character, however, I do believe that these are the stories he'd tell us today. This is history as Winston Churchill knew it to be, and what an entertaining bias it is to hear.

Additional Info

  • Theatre: New World Stages
  • Theatre Address: 340 West 50th Street New York, NY 10019
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: February 6, 2015
  • Opening Night: February 18, 2015
  • Closing: Open Ended
Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2015 05:31