by David Lally · February 17, 2015
There has been a lot of imported theatre coming into New York City recently and boy, have we needed it. With Broadway becoming more and more a recycling bin of revivals and retreads, not to mention movies turned into musicals, it is refreshing to see that some of the best new work is not always locally grown. The latest, from SoloChicago Theatre, is a most welcome addition to the New York theatrical landscape.
The play is Churchill, written and performed by Ronald Keaton, and both Winston and Ronald are a very pleasant way to spend an evening at the theatre.
Now, some may be put off by the thought of a play about Winston Churchill. You might be inclined to think it will be a dry rehashing of a history lesson, but let me assure you, it is not that at all.
Oh, sure, history plays a part because after all, Churchill was inarguably one of the most effective political figures of all time, with a very warm affection for us here in the United States, largely due to the fact that his mother was American. But what do we know about the man himself? Well, after spending two hours with Ronald Keaton's Churchill, I found the man to be surprisingly warm, witty and inviting and the play an utter delight.
The play itself takes place in March 1946. In the preceding year, Winston Churchill had led Britain and the Allies to victory in the European Theatre of World War II. He had also shockingly been defeated for re-election as Prime Minister. Sitting in forced retirement with his wife Clementine at their home, Churchill received an invitation from President Harry Truman to speak in the States… at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where he delivered his legendary, emphatic “Iron Curtain” speech. He arrives in Fulton to an informal and esoteric gathering of friends and supporters, and shares his life in flashback and in storytelling.
The format relies on a bit of stream-of-consciousness here and there to better illustrate the man behind all of these great deeds and it works very well. No part of the play feels forced, as if Mr. Keaton is trying to cram Winston Churchill facts and figures down our throat. The effect is very much like spending the evening at a dinner party with Mr. Churchill in attendance as he regales you with stories of his battles, both personal and professional. I honestly didn’t want it to end.
Solo shows can be tricky but Kurt Johns has seamlessly directed the action so nothing ever feels forced. All three elements, the text, the actor and the direction are so natural, you honestly believe you are watching Winston Churchill reincarnated before your very eyes. Mr. Keaton does not rely on mere mimicry to create his Churchill and the effect is a living, breathing entity. It is a flawless performance and even though it is only February, I guarantee this will be one of the top performances you will see all year.
Churchill is ably supported by a beautiful library/study set and lighting by Jason Epperson and complimented by projections of pictures of the people and places that Churchill refers to, which Paul Deziel slyly inserts in the large stately windows that decorate the rear of the set.
The play had a successful run in Chicago as the inaugural work of SoloChicago Theatre, dedicated to the performance of the solo art, and they are off to a great start. The show here in New York has already been extended through May at New World Stages so see it before it becomes a piece of history as well.