This review of “Churchill" at New World Stages was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Adapted & Performed by Ronald Keaton
Directed by Kurt Johns
New World Stages
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
New York, New York 10019
Reviewed 6/25/15 at 8:00 p.m.
Reviewed 6/25/15 at 8:00 p.m.
Churchill is the first project of SoloChicago Theatre, the only Equity theatre in the country dedicated to promoting the art of solo performance. Ronald Keaton, who adapted and stars in this one-man show, gives a compelling portrayal of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill in this warm, witty, engaging and entertaining show. Churchill was a hit in Chicago during its run at The Greenhouse Theater Center. It opened Off-Broadway at New World Stages in February and is still going strong. Ronald Keaton presents us with a warmer, gentler, reflective man who enjoys painting and spending time with his family and children but who is also resolutely committed to defending Britain from Nazi aggression and to making his mark, which to a large extent he believes to be his destiny. The play is set in 1946 and Churchill is speaking to an American audience about his life, challenges and adventures. His story is told primarily in chronological order with images flashing on the back wall from the various time periods of his life (e.g. military school, a scene of battle, his wife). The play opens with Winston Churchill dabbing his brush at a canvas and announcing that he prefers to paint in oils because doing so allows you to fix mistakes. The closing image has him back at the canvas, hoping that when he gets to heaven, he will be able to spend the first few million years painting. His famous quotation about death is, "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter."
Winston Churchill was born in a bedroom in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire on November 30, 1874, six weeks premature. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough, was a successful politician, and his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (nee Jennie Jerome) was the daughter of American millionaire Leonard Jerome. As he joked, "my mother wasn't a Yankee; she was a Dodger, having been brought up in Brooklyn." From age two to six, he lived in Dublin, where his grandfather had been appointed Viceroy and employed Churchill's father as his Private Secretary. With limited contact with his parents, Churchill became very close to his Nanny, Elizabeth Ann Everest, whom he called "Woomany." He reports he might have had five conversations with his father his whole life and his mother's heart was not in the nursery so at age 7, he was sent off to Boarding School. Still, his love of his mother made him feel very close to the Americans and his father's success as an orator and politician inspired him his whole life. One day his father asked him if he would like to join the military, to which he readily agreed. Excited that his father may have seen some potential in him, he later overheard his father telling his mom, "There are only four options for the lad: the land, the law, the church and the military. He has no land. He's too stupid for the law and he's too obstreperous for the church." So he was off to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, the British Army's initial officer training center, where he trained for the cavalry and graduated 8th in his class.
He recalls his military service in India, Sudan, and South Africa as well as how he became a writer and was paid as a war correspondent. He describes how he met and proposed to his wife and tells us a bit about his children including his daughter Marigold, who died young. He goes into some detail regarding the political and appointed positions he served in and mentions some of his successes and failures, highs and lows, and how he reacted to them. He may have been depressed at times "believing all human beings are worms," but he would eventually come around to the recognition that he, at least, "is a glow worm." In this regard, Ronald Keaton presents Winston Churchill as a human being, not some caricature. The play is full of accurate details regarding Winston Churchill's life. It also successfully introduces you to both his vulnerable and stubborn side. On the one hand, he and his wife Clementine have pet names for each other (Winston: Pig or Pug; Clementine: Pussycat) and sometimes the whole family crawls around under the dining room table making animal noises. On the other hand, he is willing to insult every member of Parliament when they don't view an issue with the same importance as he does. Ronald Keaton also highlights Winston Churchill's sense of humor. He tells the story of meeting a potential voter when he was first running for office. The man told him, "I'd rather vote for the Devil" to which Churchill responded, "I understand but just in case your friend isn't running, can I count on your support?"
In the political arena, Churchill described Socialism as "a philosophy of failure, a creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy" with "its only inherent virtue being the equal sharing of misery." He defined an appeaser "as someone who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last." When elected Prince Minister in a unity government prior to World War II, he said he had nothing to offer but his "blood, toil, tears and sweat." When Ambassador Joseph Kennedy was predicting Britain's defeat and urging its surrender, Winston Churchill gave a speech in which he said, "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." In the darkest hours of the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill was confident the New World would come to the aid of the Old World, not just with the Lend-Lease program, but eventually with troops. Once Pearl Harbor was attacked and FDR told him, "we're all in the same boat now," he felt it was only a matter of time until the Allies emerged victorious. Winston describes a very personal meeting he and FDR shared after a conference in Casablanca as well as his experiences with Harry Truman, who became President after FDR died one month before V-E Day.
I have only touched on some of the many interesting stories you will hear while watching this play, and it is amazing that after 1946, when this play is set, Winston Churchill remained active for another 19 years, serving as Prime Minister from 1951 to 1955, and dying on January 24, 1965 at age 90, 70 years to the day after his father's death. Ronald Keaton based the script on Churchill's voluminous writings (he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953), and on a 1980s teleplay by James C. Humes. The knowledge of what this extraordinary man did during his life as well as his many talents, is not common knowledge among the general population. It is for this reason I highly recommend you see this play. However, you will not only obtain new knowledge but also have a grand time in the process. I will leave you with one last quotation. Being an anti-Communist, Churchill was once asked how he could send aid to Russia, who was also fighting the Nazis. He responded, "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least one favorable reference to the Devil in front of the House of Commons."
To learn more about Churchill, visit www.churchilltheplay.com. To purchase tickets to see Churchill before the run ends, go to https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Churchill/Overview where you can buy tickets for the very low price of $67.00. You will be glad you did!