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Theater review: 'Churchill' at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center

October 7, 2010 |  3:30 pm


Eerie verisimilitude adorns "Churchill" in its West Coast premiere at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center. Taking the stage in Andrew Edlin's 1997 monodrama, actor Edmund L. Shaff bears an amazing resemblance to the rotund, orotund British icon, at times suggesting a hologram culled from era newsreels.

In 1955, an 80-year-old Churchill hunkers down in his secret London bunker to decide whether he will finally retire as prime minister. He doesn't trust likely successor Anthony Eden to stand up to the Communists, nor he is certain his World War II legacy is sacrosanct. Yet 55 years in Parliament and wife Clemmie weigh heavily on the great man. If only his venerated, stoically distant father and worshiped, American-born mother were here to consult. They're not, so he makes do with us.

Edlin uses Churchill's sunset dilemma to frame a comprehensive, quote-packed look at the life of a giant. The key wartime speeches and biographical events are here, as well as Churchill's titanic wit. Director James Horan keeps focus and surrounding figures clear through projections and Derrick McDaniel's supple lighting, and Shaff is formidable, whether landing a syllogism with a tart twinkle or fighting his emotion while saluting lost comrades.

What "Churchill" isn't is particularly vibrant dramaturgy. More than 2 1/2 hours is a long time for a solo show, and the cough Shaff valiantly battled at the reviewed performance seems symptomatic of the work's longueurs. Regardless, Anglophiles and "History Channel" junkies should value "Churchill," a natural for whatever 20th century history studies still exist in public schools' curriculum vitae.

— David C. Nichols

"Churchill," Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 7. $25. (800) 595-4849. Running time:  2 hours, 40 minutes.

Photo: Edmund L. Shaff. Photo credit: Carla Barnett.