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Paulanne Simmons

"Churchill" Triumphs Again


Directed by Kurt Johns
New World Stages
340 West 50 Street
Opened Feb. 18, 2015
Tickets: $65 212-239-6200, churchilltheplay.com.
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons May 8, 2015

Ronald Keaton as Winston Churchill.

Winston Churchill, prime minister of England from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955, is arguably one of the most interesting personalities in English history, and he never wore the crown. He also was a prolific writer. His output includes a novel, two biographies, three volumes of memoirs and several histories. All this gives Ronald Keaton plenty of meat for his solo show, "Churchill," currently extended at New World Stages.

Keaton not only performs but also wrote the play, based on the life and words of Churchill, as well as the teleplay "Winston Churchill" by James C. Humes. So it is no wonder it has the ring of truth. However, "Churchill" is by no means a documentary.

The warmth and wit that emanates from Churchill the man and Churchill the politician come in great part from the writing, but is also due to Keaton's very believable portrayal and Kurt Johns direction, which keeps Churchill moving around the stage but always connecting with the audience.

Ronald Keaton as Winston Churchill.

The show begins with the prime minister past his prime, wielding a paintbrush and ruminating over his latest landscape. But even the poorest history student knows Churchill is not famous for his paintings. Soon Keaton takes the audience on a journey back in time to Churchill’s earliest childhood and his stint in the army, culminating in his rise to power and fame as he led England through World War II, and finally ending back in his old age.

The play is filled with delicious quotes from this stutterer and lisper who became a master orator famous for his pithy statements: "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; she shall never surrender" and "Never was so much owed by so many to so few," for instance.
Keating touches on the highs and lows not only of Churchill's public career but also his personal life. His ambivalent feelings for his very distant parents; his loving relationship with his wife, Clementine; his anguish at the death of his daughter, Marigold are all explored.

One of the most moving scenes is Churchill's reaction to the death of FDR just as World War II is coming to a close. Clearly friendship and politics are not mutually exclusive. It is this blending of the public and private man that makes this show always revealing and frequently compelling.


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