Chicago Theatre Review
The Greatest Man of the 20th Century
Churchill – Solo Chicago
Sir Winston Churchill’s credo to “Never, never give up” must also be Ron Keaton’s philosophy, the talented and charismatic actor portraying him in a wonderful one-man production. Mr. Keaton spent several years diligently researching this multifaceted, larger-than-life Englishman, sifting through the statesman’s own writings and mountains of other information, judiciously honing down all of Churchill’s many accomplishments into a manageable full-length script. The playwright/dramaturg’s intimate relationship to his material gives Ron Keaton, the actor, a very special, close connection to his dramatic work. The result is pure theatrical magic.
In a very educational, surprisingly entertaining two hours that sail by all too quickly, the actor takes audiences on a journey through the life and accomplishments of this great man. Playgoers first meet Sir Winston relaxing in front of an easel, enjoying some down time while painting a landscape, his favorite subject. The gentleman praises the merits of creating in oils versus watercolor and succinctly explains the satisfaction that painting provides for him. From this gentle, pastoral scene Keaton segues into Churchill the student, military man, speaker, writer, politician, historian, wartime leader, Prime Minister, and all the other many hats he wore.
The resulting evening is captivating, enlightening, often laced with humor and nicely paced by director Kurt Johns. The production is enhanced and supported by Paul Deziel’s projections and smoothly illuminated by Jason Epperson’s lighting. With only a table and a few chairs, Epperson’s modest set design, often dominated by the British Union Jack, is practical and perfect. The play is formatted around Churchill’s speech to a Westminster College audience in Fulton, Missouri (where he received one of several honorary university degrees). Keaton tells us that Churchill was eventually even made an honorary citizen of the United States in 1963.
This production, however, belongs entirely to Ron Keaton, a favorite veteran Equity actor with a twinkle in his eye, who’s appeared on almost every stage in the Chicago area. Indeed, it’s because of Mr. Keaton that this play even exists. Celebrating the brilliance and many accomplishments of this larger-than-life man, while bringing out the lovable, human side of Winston Churchill, Keaton masters it all. Every preconceived notion about this legendary man, who many people voted the greatest figure of the 20th century, fade under Keaton’s warm portrayal of the British gentleman, who would evenually call Franklin Roosevelt one of his best friends.
This production, which would be very much at home at TimeLine Theatre, begs to be included as a field trip for every area middle and high school student. But this is not only an educational production but a highly entertaining one, often humorous and filled with moments that touch the heart as well as the intellect. Mr. Keaton’s determination to develop and bring this show to life is a real labor of love, and it’s a must-see, inspirational production that promises to speak to every generation.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented August 1-September 14 by SoloChicago at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available at the Greenhouse box office, by calling 773-404-7336 or by going to www.greenhousetheater.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.